Henry Sullivan, 6, presses gemstones into a stepping stone during the April meeting of the junior garden club. The club is an extension of the Findlay Garden Club and aims to get children excited about gardening and nature. The next meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. May 7. (Photo by Kevin Bean)

Staff Writer

Some of Findlay’s newest green thumbs belong to children.

The Findlay Garden Club, a member of the Ohio Association of Garden Clubs, has started a “junior garden club” which aims to get children excited about gardening and nature.

And it seems to be working.

One child, walking into the Hancock County Ohio State University Extension office for the April meeting, could be heard calling out: “Gardening, yipee!”

The club made fresh evergreen Christmas wreaths in December and pinecone bird feeders in January. In March they planted avocado seeds in water, which they will plant in dirt in May. Upcoming programs include creating a “pizza garden” with basil and tomatoes, and creating a fairy garden.

April’s meeting focused on making stepping stones. Adult volunteers from the Findlay Garden Club poured mortar into a pan, and the children could decorate with natural-looking stones like one might find outside, or with brightly colored, jewel-like decorative stones.

“They’re good colors to reflect in the sun,” said Henry Sullivan, 6.

This was his first time at a club meeting, and he said, “I like doing this because it’s fun.”

His mother, Halley Sullivan, said the family likes to spend time outdoors and has a vegetable garden. Coming to the junior garden club meant her children would have a chance to learn more.

Henry’s brother Jack, 5, explained that he was pushing his stones further into the mortar to create indentations, so there would be a little “cup” for birds to drink from. He expects birds to come visit and in fact created multiple such cups, so that different birds can come and drink from the stepping stone at once.

“I can’t wait!” he said. (He was told he’d have to wait until the next day for the mortar to dry, however.)

Jack also put in a shiny red jewel next to some which were other colors. “That’s for the queen bird,” he explained.

(Later, Jack asked his brother, “Are you sure you don’t want any bird drinks?” Henry, meanwhile, had created a stone with gems spelling out the letter “H.”)

The oldest child in attendance was 11-year-old James Jacobs, who came with his mother, Jenica.

“I always like creating things,” James said.

He helps his mom pull weeds and said making stepping stones is both useful and “something different that you don’t do every day.” He used the colorful gemstones for one stepping stone, but created a second one with the natural-looking stones.

Some of the children, observed Findlay Garden Club president Linda Finsel, were very precise in how they placed their stones, while others were more haphazard.

“These kids are just so creative,” said Betsy DeFrancesco, Findlay Garden Club secretary.

Kiley Blackburn brought her daughters Avery, 5, and Adaline, 8. Blackburn said the family also gardens at home.

Finsel said she started the club because of her love for nature.

“I think it’s important to get kids interested in gardening early,” DeFrancesco said.

Marcie Graham, vice president of the Findlay Garden Club, said fewer children came to the April session as they had to past meetings, but she expects more interest as it gets warmer.

Graham grew up with a love of nature and gardens from a young age. Growing up in the South, she had a rose garden behind her house and would climb trees and eat pecans.

As DeFrancesco stirred the mortar for the stepping stone, the children remarked that it looked like a potion.

DeFrancesco said she found mortar at Lowe’s in 10-pound bags, which are easier to carry. (She also found children’s-sized latex gloves on Amazon.) She sprayed a tin with vegetable spray, then put in some mortar, then a mesh screen, then more mortar. The screen helped strengthen it.

She said it was strong enough that you can step on it — but, in response to one of the children’s questions, acknowledged it couldn’t handle a pickaxe.

DeFrancesco was scooping mortar for Avery as Finsel did for Adaline.

After another child said “yuck” about the gooey mortar, Jack replied, “It looks yummy to eat, to me.”

And he offered to help out — if they ran out of mortar, he said, he has some sand in a sandbox. “We have the exact right sand,” he assured them.

Finsel said in May it will be warm enough to plant outside, and she encouraged children to bring in a couple of seed packets. They’ll look at the packages and learn how much soil the different plants need covering them, and what the light and water requirements are. Then they’ll trade seeds.

The children were also asked to bring an idea for a good club name to the May meeting, scheduled for 6:30 p.m. May 7 at the Hancock County OSU Extension office, 7868 Hancock County 140. The club is open to children age 6 through 18.

There is no cost to participate, but families are asked to sign up ahead of time so the organizers know how many supplies to bring. To sign up, call the extension office at 419-422-3851 or email findlaygardenclub@gmail.com.

More fun ways for kids to go green

Looking for more ways to teach your children about plants and gardening?

The Hancock Park District will hold “Spring Break Camp: Get Green & Grow” from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday at the Richard S. “Doc” Phillips Discovery Center at Oakwoods Nature Preserve. Children ages 6-12 will learn what plant parts do what, and will make a salad in a bottle.

Register for $15 per child by 8 a.m. Monday at www.HancockParks.com under “Programs & Activities.” Snacks will be provided, but children should bring a sack lunch and a reusable water bottle. A medical form is required and available online or at the park office.

The Master Gardeners of Hancock County will hold an event at the Findlay-Hancock County Public Library from 10:30 a.m. to noon April 27.

Master gardener Karla Dennis said information on plant science and seeds, as well as a microscope and slides of insects and plants, will be available. Plant-related children’s library books will be on display and available for checkout. Preregistration is not required.

Arthurs: 419-427-8494
Twitter: @swarthurs