CHILDREN BRING A natural sense of discovery to the landscape. Their dig-in-the-dirt, play-with-the-hose antics might not look like “gardening” from the perspective of a parent trying to protect the sunflower seedlings from kiddos’ stomping footsteps, but these early encounters with plants are fertile ground for future growing.
Growing gardeners is serious business. Our world needs us to cultivate tomorrow’s environmental caretakers. “Grow: A Family Guide to Plants and How to Grow Them,” by local author Riz Reyes, is an empowering and inspirational handbook. Colorful watercolor, gouache and ink illustrations by Sara Boccaccini Meadows on every page of the oversized book create a delightful reading experience.
It will come as no surprise to anyone who has ever sprouted a seed or watched a tree grow from sapling to towering maturity that the book reads like an adventure tale. As Reyes writes in the book’s introduction, “Each chapter of this book celebrates the efforts of a few ‘plant heroes’ that have sustained our communities and shaped many cultures around the world.”
From “Mint, Hero of Aroma and Remedy” to “Orchid, Hero of Artistry and Artfulness,” “Grow” digs into 15 plants and fungi with “life-changing powers.” Most of the featured plants will be familiar to children. However, alongside practical “Grow your own ___” instructions, unexpected discoveries rounded up under the heading of “A Potted History of ___” enlarge understanding for readers of all ages. Like, did you know that mint was named for Minthe, a Greek nymph who was turned into a plant by an angry goddess? Or that pumpkins were first cultivated in the highlands of Mexico nearly 7,500 years ago?
In simple, straightforward language, each chapter’s “Meet the Family” section introduces botanical nomenclature and outlines relationships, like how strawberries, apples and wild roses are all members of the rosacea — or rose — family.
Reyes, who grew up in the Philippines on a fruit plantation managed by his father, moved to the Pacific Northwest at age 7 and has always maintained a connection to plants and flowers. Today he’s a respected working horticulturist, as well as a generous teacher and floral designer excited to share his knowledge with others, especially young learners.
When Reyes was growing up, books and public television provided a window into the world beyond his family’s immediate circumstances. “It’s pretty cool to be a part of something like authoring a book for kids and families,” he says. “I feel very strongly about how plants have the ability to teach us many life lessons.”
Having spent his whole life around plants, Reyes hopes his book will encourage continuous learning. “With gardening, it’s about the process and not always the outcome,” he says. As we all well know, gardening is a constant education. “That’s perfectly OK,” Reyes encourages. “Because then you’ll just want to learn more and more.”
Along with sound history and horticulture, Reyes brings a global perspective to everything he does and is committed to inspiring young people, especially people of color, to interact with nature and learn about the environment. “Can you imagine what a beautiful world this could be?” I have muses
Writing about heroes, families and relationships is a powerful foundation for a healthy future. Where better to start than in a garden?