Several years ago I met Peter Wotowiec, at the time head of the Cleveland school system's gardening program, a model of its kind.
Apparently teaching basic gardening skills to youngsters was accomplishing far more than merely imparting the ability to raise carrots, cabbage, and cantaloupes. It was found that frequently rebellious children became cooperative after enrolling in the program, shy youngsters became more confident and outgoing, and the grades of previously poor students improved. Why?
Success with growing things apparently comes readily to youngsters, given a competent instructor. And, as the youngster succeeds in the garden, he gains an improved perception of himself. Feelings of self-worth replace negative concepts , and the cause of both rebelliousness and excessive shyness evaporate.
When the child who has never before scored well at school gets an A or a B grade on his report card for gardening, the resulting increased confidence is later reflected in other subjects, too.
There is also another reason behind this improvement, according to Mr. Wotowiec. The child in the garden reads the seed catalogs in choosing what to plant, and later he reads the instructions on the packet of seeds he is sowing. If he has five feet of row and the lettuce plants must be spaced six inches apart, he gets a practical lesson in math while learning to appreciate the value of compost in the planting hole.
Youngsters also respond to the plant's need of them. They must sow the seed, water, and otherwise nurture the seedling. They know that, without their ministrations, the seedling would fare indifferently at best. This kindles a sense of responsibility.
Cleveland's fiscal woes caused the gardening program to be cut a few years back, but not before the Wotowiec skills in organizing youth gardening had been passed on to Gardens for All, the National Association for Gardening. Much of this information is now being included in GFA's ''New Youth Gardening Manual,'' currently in its final editing stage.
Surveys for GFA by the Gallup organization have shown that a majority of parents would like to see gardening taught in the schools. Some schools do teach these skills, but not many - largely because teachers lack the teaching materials and don't know how to go about it.
The manual will fill that need for teachers and also for leaders of youth or community groups that wish to teach gardening skills. The individual who wishes to teach gardening to neighborhood youngsters would also benefit from the manual , which includes first-person stories, experiences of people who have been teaching youth gardening for years.
Among the subjects covered are: ''How to Inspire Support for Projects,'' ''Gardening as a Way to Get Parents Involved,'' ''The Importance of Harvest Fairs,'' ''65 Educational and Exciting Activities After the Garden Is Planted, ''''All About Top Soil,'' ''Making Raised Beds,'' ''Liability Insurance, Do You Need It?''
''Gardening is so much more than simply weeding and watering,'' says Lynn Ocone, director of Youth Gardening Programs for GFA, ''and the manual shows how to get that message across.''
GFA currently is raising funds to cover the initial cost of printing the manual. The manuals will sell for $10 a copy, so that subsequent printings will be financed by sales. If you wish to make a tax-deductible contribution, send it to Gardens for all, 180 Flynn Avenue, Burlington, Vt. 05401.
Two All-America Rose Selections award winners for 1983 have just been announced. They are: Sun Flare, a yellow floribunda originated by hybridizer William Warriner of Tustin, Calif., and Sweet Surrender, a pink hybrid tea, developed by Ollie Weeks of Ontario, Calif.
Sun Flare has compact bushy growth and glossy, hollylike foliage. Clusters of three to twelve 3-inch blooms cover the bush during the peak blooming periods, which are repeated constantly during the growing season.
Sweet Surrender boasts clear, silvery-pink flowers on well-shaped upright plants. The flower is strongly perfumed with what is described as a ''true rose fragrance.''
If you would like to grow things, but don't have any obvious place for a garden, start looking in less-obvious locations. In Toledo, Ohio, Ted Jensen has converted a narrow strip of land between a parking lot and a high fence into a productive food garden.
The strip is just 30 inches wide from the end of the paving to the fence, but it is 90 feet long. That makes for 225 square feet of garden space. The fence is a great help, too. Currently pole beans and cucumbers hang from this fence, along with some of the most ''deliciously sweet muskmelons'' you will find anywhere, according to my informant.
The garlic cloves I planted in the spring grew to marble-sized bulbs by midsummer, even though the nearby onion bed with an identical soil treatment produced good sized bulbs. Garden books suggest spring or fall planting of Allium sativum, but long-time garlic growers tell me that fall planting gives much better results.
Apparently the plant develops a goodly root system before winter sets in, which gives it a head start on the spring-planted varieties the following year. Set the cloves 2 inches deep and 6 inches apart.