For anyone who is squeamish about giving a child the talk about the birds and the bees, my garden proposes to you an easy alternative. Just talk about the flowers and the flowers.
Yes, you heard me right. All you have to do is plant a couple of squash seeds, and let nature do ninety-nine percent of the work for you. Any normal squash will do – zucchini, vegetable marrow, pumpkin, butternut, acorn – all good. If you’re short on growing space, stick with zucchini, and if you’ve got several square metres, go crazy, plant pumpkins, and let them sprawl.
There’s a bonus with pumpkin plants as teaching tools. Once you’ve explained about the flowers and the flowers, you end up with some bouncing, big, orange fruits. No, no, don’t waste them as jack-o’-lanterns! Just gut, peel, cut up, steam, and purée. Then use the purée to make the easiest, tastiest, most satisfying soup. (Sautée an onion in a big pot, add equal parts vegetable or meat broth and pumpkin purée (more purée if you want the soup thick), simmer 15 minutes. Season as you prefer. I use seasoning salt, ginger, & black pepper.)
Now, back to the flowers. My zucchini plants have just put forth their first blooms. Unfortunately, that does not mean I am rejoicing and honing my paring knife for the harvest quite yet. These first flowers are all males and will produce no fruits. At various times through its life, a squash plant produces a male blossom with a pollen-drenched anther at the centre, or a female blossom with a receptive pistil and a tiny baby squash at the base. Once the growing season is well underway, a squash plant will often have both male flowers and female flowers at the same time.
You see where this is going, of course. No need to talk to your youngster about icky animal body parts or fluids, or to speak of rutting goats or dogs in heat. No need to mention animals at all. Certainly no need to talk about people.
You just lead the child into the garden and talk about the lovely flowers, and how the male flower and its pollen needs to fertilize the female flower and its baby squash. So tidy, so tranquil, so botanical. Best of all – no awkward questions you can’t answer or don’t want to answer.
When a bee or your child has helped the pollen get to the female flower, you can all watch the squash grow into a meal for the family. It’s reproduction at its most discrete.
Now that I have solved your worries about that talk with your child, don’t feel any need to thank me. Jardinage oblige, and all that. It’s the least I can do.
One final word. There is a remote chance that your grown offspring will visit you and bring along only armloads of squash, not grandchildren. If you are a keen environmentalist, you will rejoice at helping to curb the explosive growth of the world’s population. However, some of you might be keen to pinch the cheeks of a new dumpling in your family line. In that case, I have three things to say to you: Firstly, I’m sorry to hear that your young developed no ability to extrapolate. Secondly, if you are determined to have grandchildren, you must take each grown child aside and brave the Icky Bit talk. And thirdly, you’re on your own with that talk because I’ll be out in the garden matchmaking in the squash patch.
Myself, I have no children. Just a coincidence, of course.