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Take Heart: Nurturing ­key to gardening, parenting

Nur·tured, nur·tur·ing, nur·tures 1. To nourish; feed. 2. To educate; train. 3. To help grow or develop; cultivate.

As I gazed at our two gardens this past weekend, it became apparent that they were looking a little neglected, their soil very dry, stalks slightly withering.

Out came the sprinkler and after an hour, the soil was no longer cracked and dry. The plants perked up after the refreshing attention.

The process made me think to equate the idea of gardening to parenting. You see, the process of raising a garden is a lot like nurturing and raising a child.

First we must find a suitable place for the garden, fertile soil, a place with the right amount of sunshine, maybe even a little shade if needed, a place that we can see on a daily basis and admire as the days pass.

We need to pick out the right items to plant; we want to plant items we like, things we know will grow, all kinds of shapes and sizes, colors and shades, each one unique but collectively vivid and beautiful.

Now begins the hard work of preparing the garden. We need to till the soil, sometimes many times to get it just right. We pull roots and remove rocks and then we make the rows, staking each one to identify what is where.

We plant the seeds, carefully spacing them apart, taking care to put them at the right depth and then covering with fresh soil.

We begin a routine that all gardeners understand, and that is watering on a daily basis, usually twice a day, and then tending to the weeds. We can't water something and not have weeds grow, so we must remove them. These are two steps we will continue to repeat for months.

As many days pass we begin to see little sprouts turn into magnificent plants, and in due time will be able to reap the rewards of a well-deserved harvest, a gift from all the hard work we put in and the reason we started at all.

Yes, many understand that there is way more work that goes into a garden than the condensed version I listed above, but the point I am trying to make is this: a garden needs constant nurturing and if you fail to do this at any given time you will see negative results. Miss a step and the results could be ruinous. You can't properly grow a garden if you don't nurture it.

Our children deserve all the careful planning and hard work that we would invest in a garden. If your child's soil is dry then sprinkle some water on their heart. If their stalk seems a little withered, shine some light on their soul. Put in all that hard work and the harvest you will reap is a child that grows up to shine, one who is confident, strong, independent, hard-working, caring and loving.

Their garden will be just as bountiful as yours was because you taught them how to take care of a garden in the first place.

Editor's note: Joe Johnson and his wife Amanda have two children. He is a licensed master trainer/consultant for St. Joseph's Area Health Services Community Health Nurturing Fathers Program and is a case manager for the FATHER Project, a program funded by Goodwill/Easter Seals Minnesota. To learn more about participating in Fathering Skills classes, call him at 255-2063 or e-mail josephjohnson@catholic