If you want to get your kids to get into gardening this spring and summer, then bring them to the bugs, says Ciscoe Morris.
“I’m really into the bug-eating plants. That’s a great way to teach kids about plants!” says the local TV and radio personality famous for his gardening prowess and over-the-top exclamations of joy.
Morris recalls that when he was a kid (and a young gardener), figuring out how to control garden pests was one of his favorite things to do.
Get a plant that will gobble up those bugs, like the cobra lily, he advised. Ciscoe Morris can’t hide his excitement now when he talks about the thrill of opening up a plant to find carcasses of wasps and flies inside. “I’ll open up a leaf: they’re crammed, filled with yellowjackets. Yeah, kids love it.”
“They go nuts when they see that!”
Ciscoe Morris learned a lot of tricks at age 10, in Wisconsin, when he bugged and bugged the local priest for the assistant gardener job available at the local church — and mostly got to mow the lawns.
“I was the only kid that had money, and I was so popular by the candy machine,” he says with a laugh. He made about $1.25 an hour. And he had lots of garden experience already from years helping out his mom and grandmother in the vegetable garden.
He learned lots of nonpoisonous pest tricks from the church’s gardener, Old Joe, some involving a plywood board with a peekaboo hole, many years before organic was even a thing. Ciscoe follows that path now, avoiding poisons and finding cool ways to control Pacific Northwest pests.
Morris highly recommends a little healthy competition to make sure kids really dig the whole gardening process. Container planting is a great way to go, he explained. And another excellent project is to plant potatoes.
Over his many decades years of gardening in Seattle, he has led several televised kid competitions to grow potatoes in trash cans —and occasionally, to his embarrassment, with less than prize-winning results shown on TV.
One year, they got 200 potatoes, but they were all “the size of a ping-pong ball!” he notes. “It was so embarrassing to have to show it, but they thought it was really funny.”
Another year, there were just six: “One was the size of my little fingernail, and one was the size of a Volkswagen bug. You’ve never seen such a big one!”
Ciscoe Morris tip: How to grow potatoes in a barrel
Irregularity is part of what makes gardening such a joy for young people, according to Ciscoe. “The more you learned about plants the much more fascinating they were. They weren’t just a green blob sitting there, but all of a sudden you realize they had a certain color to them or a fragrance — or they had a flower that was really unusual — and so that’s never left me, that fascination for rare and unusual qualities of plants.”
A class or tour at Seattle’s Tilth Alliance would be a great way to get kids into plants, he says. A fantastic gardening road trip — in non-COVID times — would be to Ed Hume’s Educational Garden in Puyallup, a currently closed educational garden that’s become a huge hit with adults too. And the yearly Northwest Flower and Garden Festival (next planned for February 2022) is another can’t-miss for adult gardening fans and children (and look out for Ciscoe, who participates in seminars and demonstrations each year).
For parents who know nothing about gardening, or are lousy at it, all these places can help them, too. (There’s hope!) The gardening great Ciscoe confessed that even he has killed houseplants: “I think most of us murder our houseplants, by loving them to death.”
So, is there anything Ciscoe Morris didn’t like about being out in the garden as a kid?
Weeding. Blech. Yep, Seattle’s king of gardening was not a fan. Then or now.
“I never liked weeding. I still don’t, to tell you the truth, but I do it — avidly!”
Ciscoe Morris is the author of “Oh, La, La: Homegrown Stories, Helpful Tips, and Garden Wisdom,” among other books. He appears regularly on King 5’s “New Day Northwest” and can be seen some weekends on the King 5 news.
This story was first published on April 5, 2019.