Little gardeners learning big lessons at Shaler North Hills Library

| Wednesday, July 31, 2013, 9:03 p.m.

When Cheyenne Tipton was 3, she planted her first crop of radishes in her family garden.

Now, she is gardening with children her age in a new program at the Shaler North Hills Library.

Cheyenne and other children in the Shaler library's new “Our Own Backyard” program learn about plants, bugs and dirt each week and visit the library's outdoor container garden they planted to check on how big their tomato, cucumber and watermelon plants have grown since their last visit.

Gardening programs geared at young ones, such as the Shaler library's program, have been sprouting up throughout the area to introduce children to nature, the outdoors and growing flowers and produce.

Kat Tipton, Cheyenne's mother, introduced her daughter to gardening because it was something she enjoys and something she and her daughter could do together.

Tipton said she was happy to find a program that explored her daughter's interests.

“She's got a green thumb,” said Tipton, of Shaler Township. “She's very interested in being able to create life to plant a seed and create life.”

The young “Our Own Backyard” participants are encouraged to gather around the plants with magnifying glasses to find bugs and baby vegetables starting to grow.

Joyce Mangis, who teaches the Shaler library's young gardeners said, “Our Own Backyard” fits in with the library's programming and takes advantage of countless nature books available, as well as fulfilling her own dream of having a community garden.

“This library is so much more than a library,” Mangis said. “It's for the entire community. It's not our garden, it's your garden. And they love to be outdoors and love to work with their hands.”

The program also gives children the opportunity to learn where foods come from and about the process of a plant growing from a seed.

Gardening programs have been growing in size and numbers throughout the Pittsburgh area in recent years.

Melissa Harding, science-education specialist for Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, said the seasonal camps the conservatory offers throughout the year have increased in their popularity. Already this month, 215 of the 270 available openings for the summer programs are filled.

“We're busy bees,” Harding said.

Gardening programs give young children an introduction to the world around them on a personal level.

“It's really important to create the attitude of sense of place and love of nature,” Harding said. “It's not just a backyard, it's your backyard, or special place in the woods or special place where you can pick blackberries.”

“It just gets them so excited to be outside with a sense of purpose and ownership and excited about the world around them.”

Central Elementary School in Hampton took advantage of its restored greenhouse to create a junior garden club, which has 25 to 30 members each year. The club hosts an annual spring sale of plants grown from seed in the greenhouse.

Millvale Community Library, which is set to officially open later this month, took advantage of its large backyard to host the Millvale Junior Gardeners program this summer.

Once per week, children gather on the library's backyard deck to tend their “salsa garden,” which is growing ingredients for salsa to be made later in the growing season, or learn about plants and nature.

“It's important to have them realize what goes into the food that they eat every day,” said Lisa Seel, who organizes the library's programming.

“(The Millvale Junior Gardeners) is really in line with our mission for a happy, informed and engaged community.

“This is engaging them and getting them to care about their community, even if it's a 4-by-8 plot, and take ownership of something in the community.”

Bethany Hofstetter is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6364 or

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