My stepdad has been a serious gardener for the nearly 40 years I've known him. His tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers, dished up at Sunday dinners, inspired my stepsister, Michelle, and me to start our first veggie gardens more than 20 years ago. I often turned to him for help, usually in a panic.
"I think someone's breaking into my garden and snipping the new bean sprouts!"
"Cutworms. Put a ring of foil around them."
I asked Pop — Almondo "Armand" Vallone, now 85 — about handing down the lessons of gardening to us kids. Does he think we learned more than basic horticulture?
"Faith," he says. "Gardening is the way of perpetuating faith in life. If you plant something, you're going to have faith in your future and hope that it's going to grow.
"Faith, hope and charity. Those are the three. And they're all in the garden."
As usual, he's right. Here are some other thoughts from other dads about life, kids and gardening.
. Kurt Steinmann, Belleair, CEO of nonprofit Mulch (Making Urban Landscapes Cleaner & Healthier)
A favorite plant: voodoo lilies (Amorphophallus)
During their teens, Kurt's two "spirited" boys got a healthy helping of garden chores. Work cooled volatile tempers.
"We created over 300 yards of pathways with planting beds, and the repetitive nature of raking the mulch, tidying up the plants, and watering by hand would melt away the anger," Kurt says.
"Bring two fighting boys to me, I'll tell them to rake the garden for an hour . . . It's an anger management plan all schools could employ.
. Shawn Steed, Plant City, University of Florida Extension agent
A favorite plant: corn "Eating it is the best part."
Shawn loves time in the garden with his five kids because it holds so many important life lessons.
"You can teach that steady work can yield bountiful returns. Even when they don't want to help, you can demonstrate that hard work, at times, really is hard work, and a work ethic is cultivated," he says.
"You can inspire wonder about the beauty and mystery of God's creation. You can see lessons of life, death, and sacrifice. And they are inheriting a deep and ancient knowledge of how to produce food to feed themselves and cultivate beauty around them."
. Allen Boatman, Lutz, agriculture teacher at LaVoy Exceptional Center
A favorite plant: Stapeliads (star-flowered succulents)
Allen's a father of two but, as a teacher of special-needs students, influences many more young lives.
In his first year at LaVoy, he says he had his students buy produce, eat the edible parts and plant what was propagable. All the while, they read Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman.
"It's a great, small book for getting kids interested in community, gardening and growing produce," he says. "It really sparked their interest."
Harvests gave the students confidence and made them want to do — and learn — more.
Allen's own kids, Sara, 13, and Jess, 10, have also gotten important life lessons from growing with Dad. Sara was watering the peppers at 2; Jess planted his first veggie garden at 4.
"The failures help my children understand that there will be disappointments in life, but you should not let them discourage you from doing something you might enjoy."
. Bob Buckhorn, Tampa, Tampa mayor
A favorite plant: Gardenia
"Whatever it is that your kids like to do, do it with them as a father, whether that's gardening or bicycling. Encourage your kids to explore the world and be active. My kids, for instance, love to go fishing, and that gives us exclusive time to talk, laugh, and take a moment to focus on our family."
. Joe Parr, Temple Terrace, Busch Gardens horticulture director
A favorite plant: At the moment, Tipuana tipu, a native Bolivian tree
At about 14, son Brice wanted a summer job. As it happened, a friend of Joe's owned a lawn-mowing business and wanted a vacation.
"I told my son that for four weeks, he needed to be ready as soon as I got home from work and we would tackle a couple of lawns each day. I would help with labor and provide the equipment, and he could keep the money," Joe says.
But — if Brice complained or failed to show, no deal.
Each week Brice had the equipment ready and waiting when his dad showed up.
"He made a few bucks and made me very proud," says Joe, a father of six.
Now 21 and working toward a bachelor's degree in finance, Brice still mows some lawns; not for money, but to help out.
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Happy Father's Day to all of you great dads!
Contact Penny Carnathan at [email protected]; visit her blog, digginfloridadirt.com; join in the chat on Facebook, Diggin Florida Dirt; and follow @Diggin Penny.