Listen to this article

CHAMPAIGN — The biggest challenge of turning 5-year-olds into gardeners?

They “don’t have a lot of dexterity or fine motor skills yet, so (it’s) very interesting to watch them try to plant seeds,” said Twin Cities Garden Club President Lisa Sur.

She would know: Sur and other members of the club have been watching such children plant and tend to a newly created pollinator garden at Next Generation Preschool.

“We had this great garden space out here and it’s never been really used for anything concrete,” said teacher Taylor Braastad. “We’ve had a lot of wildflowers, which are really fun, but this year we really wanted to try to incorporate pollinator awareness and monarch butterfly propagation.”

There were classroom animals to feed, too.

“We have a rabbit, a bearded dragon and lots of other reptiles,” Braastad said.

Through a connection with club member Judy Blaney, Braastad and the club formalized a plan to start growing a garden near the school’s parking lot in March.

They planted tomato, kale and arugula seeds for the animals and swamp milkweed for monarch butterflies.

“Sometimes, (the kids) were just so excited that seeds just kind of got dumped,” Sur said.

“But overall, they did very well.”

Garden club member Mike Skreiner — dubbed the “caterpillar expert” on Wednesday by some students — said they even managed to preserve the lives of caterpillars they hope will metamorphosize into monarchs.

“The same challenge exists for the children handling caterpillars — if you squeeze them too hard, they could kill them,” he said.

“But they seemed to do really well.”

The experience was a first for members of the garden club, who said they hadn’t collaborated with a school before.

“We would like the children to have a love of gardening and grow up with different plants and learn how to care for the plants and what they’re good for,” Skreiner said.

While Next Generation’s garden “grows with (the students) as they go through school,” as Sur put it, members of the club hope they can take their services elsewhere.

“We would love to do (more) preschools,” Blaney said. “Even if grade schools have an interest, we can.”