Watching a child in the garden is a quick way to flashback to your own childhood. Ladybugs, rolly pollies, stink bugs, inchworms, ants and spiders always caught my attention as a kid and now they have captured the attention of my own young ones.
Years before I had children I was hiking in Muir Woods and I came across what looked like millions of ladybugs on a rotting log. I had never seen so many in one place and I promptly took a dozen pictures. After the photoshoot, I sat quietly and observed. Now I know that ladybugs (also called ladybirds or lady beetles) sometimes congregate together for collective warmth and hibernation, but at the time it felt like I was the first to see such a magical sight. Now our sons are obsessed with ladybugs (scientific family name: Coccinellidae). My five year old son still lights up with discovery every time he spies just one lone ladybug in the garden. He shouts out that he has one to watch and then he sits down to survey the little bug’s life.
It isn’t long before he is collecting it in his tiny fingers to feel the tickle of the ladybug’s legs. He loves them for their beauty and I love them because they eat the aphids in my garden, up to 50 aphids a day! He knows to put the ladybug back where he found it because that little bug is helping to grow the broccoli he loves to munch while searching for more bugs.
Rolly pollies are also our garden friends. When I pulled up my dead tomato plants from their pots last winter I called for the boys to come see the rolly pollies swarming the top of the dirt and clinging to the plant roots. The boys quickly gathered their tools: buckets, shovels and plastic dinosaurs. They sat next to the pot for hours devising epic adventures for their new buddies. Preparing the garden for spring planting is is one of their favorite events purely for the bug hunt. Pillbugs are not insects but crustaceans that are related to shrimp and crawfish. They breathe with gills and need moisture to survive, which is good because my sons have dug many swimming pools in their sandbox for these little guys. They also help speed up decomposition and recirculate the soil in the garden. So, the next time you catch your child sneaking a rolly pollie in the house to keep as a pet, which mine do often, just smile and encourage them to build a home for it in your garden, maybe with decaying leaves for a floor.
Adults are so busy ‘getting things done’. Even enjoying the garden means putting in work, but I try to pause more often to observe a hungry ladybug or graceful butterfly. It’s hard to remember to slow down, but I deserve to capture a moment of wonder as well.
Here’s to exploring our world!