Projects and destinations for the whole family

Dandelions: not just for wishing anymore. (photo by gemsling)

Dandelions: not just for wishing anymore. (photo by gemsling)

“Why try to explain miracles to your kids when you can just have them plant a garden.”

-Robert Brault

 A wild edible to get to know: dandelion

Milk witch. Lion’s tooth. Puffball. Wet-a-bed. No matter what you call a dandelion, it’s a pretty amazing plant. It’s the plant I’ve chosen to connect with this season. Perhaps you’d like to choose one for yourself? I got the idea from Halyna Shepko of Shawangunk Ridge Farm. I marveled at her vast knowledge of a plant we came across at the playground, and she made it seem possible that I could know things like that, too. She suggested the practice of becoming familiar with one particular plant each year; being curious about it. We can do this by: observing other places where we encounter it, exploring its herbal and culinary possibilities, reflecting on what we experience when we engage with it, identifying its larger role in nature with other plants and animals, and discovering references to it in historical lore. Some of us might even intuit a spiritual connection with the plant. This year, I’ve chosen the dandelion because it feels like an easy start for a beginner: it’s so widely abundant, and I actually knew the name of it without looking it up. I understand many people strive to rid their lawns of dandelion, but as Almanac Weekly garden columnist Lee Reich says, “Easier than eradicating dandelion might be to change your perception of it.” I’ve heard that dandelions are nutritious, from roots to leaves to bud to flower. At our house, I’ve only gotten as far as eating the petals from the flower: we like to sprinkle the yellow petals on top of our meals and drinks as garnish; and blowing the dried seeds, what our daughter calls Wish Flowers. I’ve appreciated the chance to engage my kids in this dandelion adventure because they love picking them anyway, and now we have so many more things to do with them than just put them in a glass on the kitchen table. I’m so interested in seeing where this goes, and I’d love to hear how this sharing may have inspired your own plant journeying this year.

Three Hudson Valley gardens to visit with the family and why

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How wonderful is it to walk through a garden with children? Kids notice everything: a shimmering beetle, the heart shape of a leaf, the rustling of beech leaves, the scent of a magnolia. To me, part of the joy of spring and summer in the Hudson Valley is simply spending time in beautiful gardens, and coming across a flower, a water element, or an artful arrangement of plants and stones that I want to replicate in my own yard.

I have three area gardens to recommend to you and your family. Stroll through and take them in with all your senses. Keep in mind, these places are not parks – there’s a garden culture to respect, such as walking through the spaces, not running, using low voices, being careful not to step on, tug on, or climb on garden elements. I mention this because these are not child-oriented gardens, but they are gardens that I think are so astoundingly beautiful that children and youth should be exposed to them. Please be mindful, and have fun.

Beatrix Farrand Garden, Bellefield, Hyde Park

One of my favorite books growing up was The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Now I’m grown with a family of my own, the idea of discovering a special, hidden garden still thrills me. So I was pretty excited to come across a garden I had never heard of right in Hyde Park whose entries are actual doors, one on each of the three walls (the fourth wall is connected directly to the mansion). I introduce to you the Beatrix Farrand Garden. This restored garden is named after its designer, one of the most influential landscape architects in the United States, a female pioneer in her field, and a niece of Edith Wharton. It’s one of her few remaining gardens. You’ve never heard of Bellefield either, right? But I’m sure you know exactly where it is! It shares the same property as the Franklin Delano Roosevelt National Historic Site. You know that yellow mansion you see from the road as you drive by? The garden abuts that house. As you enter the FDR site, you just turn left into the parking lot for the mansion instead of driving to the back where you park for the FDR site. There are signs to direct you to Bellefield. After you park, walk down the lane in front of the mansion, and there it is — a wall with a mysterious, inviting door. There’s no admission charge to the garden, and it’s open daily from 7 a.m. until sunset. I’m a pretty low maintenance gardener — as in I have lots of hostas — and many of these blooms are varieties our family has never seen before. If you’re looking for some guidance about what you’re looking at, use your cell phone to dial into the audio tour line. The space is a long rectangle with a grassy lawn center surrounded by plants and flowers along the perimeter. My daughter loved examining the blooms. My son thought it was cool to walk ahead of me, exit the garden through another door, then re-enter the garden and sneak up on me from behind. Bellefield is so close you can combine your garden with a visit to the FDR Historic Site. Also close is an iced mint chocolate chip coffee at the Dunkin’ Donuts next door. I love that I can do errands with the kids along Rt. 9, then take a quick garden stop as part of our outing. Any day can improve with a visit to a walled secret garden, right? You might not even need the coffee. Beatrix Farrand Garden at Bellefield is located at 4097 Albany Post Rd. in Hyde Park. For more information, call (845) 229-9115 extension 2023 or visit www.beatrixfarrandgarden.org.

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