Little (native) seeds sprout nationally

First Bloom, a national effort, connects urban kids to parks through native plants and gardens.

Bebeto Matthews/AP
Look at this: Ramona Philippe, a student at Harlem's Adam Clayton Powell P.S. 153, shows Laura Bush a worm she collected while taking part in the First Bloom program.

 Have you ever heard of a program called First Bloom? It introduces disadvantaged urban kids to native plants at national parks.

It was founded last year by the National Park Service Foundation as a tribute to Lady Bird Johnson, whose efforts on behalf of beautification and native plants have made a huge difference in the US.

In their neighborhoods and at nearby national parks, kids learn about sustainable garden design, protecting the environment, and native plants.

They also have the opportunity to grow locally native plants from seed. In Dallas, for example, the seedlings will form the basis of a school's new wildflower garden.

In New York, "children and mentors from the Boys Club of NYC and the Lower East Side Girls planted perennials native to New York City in a section of the Battery near Castle Clinton National Monument at the foot of the Battery Conservancy Labyrinth, which was built in 2002 to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the World Trade Center tragedy," says the NPSF.

In June, First Bloom introduced its first citywide program in Boston, which has a number of historic national parks. It included lessons in composting and ropemaking.

In Philadelphia, the kids participated in several weeks of lessons, learning about the relationship of wild animals to native plants, and they helped remove alien plants from National Park Service land.

The children who participate in First Bloom have also had the opportunity to "reintroduce native plants to an area of Everglades National Park overrun by invasive plants and plant hundreds of native plants at the annual White House garden tours," says the NPSF.

I realize that in the politically polarizing times, the fact that first lady Laura Bush is the honorary chairman of First Bloom will cause some people to dismiss the program immediately.

And you may wonder if the efforts presidents' wives make to get involved in various "causes" are mere publicity. But I think back to Lady Bird Johnson, who certainly made a lasting impact. And in fact, the wildlflower center she helped found is actively involved in First Bloom.

I have to agree with Susan Rieff, executive director of the wildflower center, who told the Austin American-Statesman: "One of the concerns we have is that children — and adults — are losing their connection to nature."

Surely any effort to introduce city kids to nature, native plants, gardening, and parks is a step in the right direction.

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