Dear Boys and Girls,
My name is Mr. McGregor. I understand that your class will be studying plants. I am very interested in plants and gardening. I wondered if you would be so kind as to help me with my gardening skills? I know you may have heard a lot about me from Beatrix Potter in her book, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, but believe me; I really know nothing at all about gardening. Please, don’t let the word get out that I needed your help. I’d be so embarrassed if I had to explain that it has really been Mrs. McGregor’s garden all along. I really appreciate your help.
Now! There are some basic questions that have puzzled me for so long. Mrs. McGregor, who is so good with plants and gardening, asked me to take care of the garden while she was on vacation. She left a long list of instructions and even expected me to plant seeds and to set out seedlings. Well, I don’t have to tell you how upset she was at the condition of the garden upon her return. Why she was so upset that she promised not to speak to me until I had taken a course on plants and gardening. Can you understand the fix I’m in? I am getting a little ahead of myself, so let me tell you the story and maybe you can help.
First, Mrs. McGregor gave me some seeds to plant. I wasn’t thinking when I laid them on a tray next to my collection of tiny rocks and pebbles. I guess I accidentally planted the pebbles and rocks instead of the seeds. Well, you can imagine how disappointed she was when she arrived at home to find that there were no plants growing from the seeds. My first question is:
1. Why do seeds develop into plants while rocks and pebbles don’t? I mean the Seeds look so much like rocks and pebbles and the rocks and pebbles look so much like seeds. What’s the difference?
Secondly, Mrs. McGregor asked me to set out some seedlings. They were about 2-4 inches tall. As I was setting them out, I couldn’t help but notice some stringy things hanging from the bottom. (Mrs. McGregor later told me they were called roots.) They looked very raggedly and untidy. Knowing Mrs. McGregor’s love of neatness and order, I took my pruning shears and trimmed all that stringy stuff away. The sticks (or stems as I later learned they were called) were very neat and looked lovely. I was surprised to discover that some of the plants withered and turned brown, while the others wouldn’t even stand up. They fell right over with the least little breeze. Question number two is:
2. What are these stringy things called roots and why are they so important to plants?
Thirdly, I noticed that some of the soil in the garden was too smooth. There wasn’t a rock or a pebble in the soil anywhere! Now, you know how much I love rocks and pebbles. I thought the plants would love them too. So, I gathered several wheelbarrows full and dumped them in the rows of the garden. I earnestly mixed them into the soil and Presto! The place looked wonderful. (Or so I thought!) Then I saw some plants that looked rather tropical. (I later discovered that they were okra plants.) Well, they made me think of lying on some white sand under a beach umbrella on a tropical island. So, I purchased some sand and turned the okra patch into a tropical paradise. Mrs. McGregor was seething. She said her soil was “composted” (whatever that means) and rich in “organic” materials. She accused me of ruining her okra patch but on this one I held my ground. Rocks, I declared, are beautiful and decorative and they’re a plus to any garden. Question number three is:
3. Do garden plants grow best in rocks, sand, or this so called “composted” soil that Mrs. McGregor loves so much? What is “organic” anyway?
My fourth dilemma is this. It was forecasted that the summer would be an extremely hot one. Temperatures would range in the high 80’s and might possibly reach into the 90’s. Now, one day as I was sitting in the shade of the porch and listening to the gentle hum of the air conditioner, I thought about the plants. I couldn’t imagine them suffering in the withering heat. So, I attempted to “shade” them from the sun’s hot rays. I erected a canopy of heavy tarp over as much of the garden as I could. The neighbors told me they heard Mrs. McGregor’s scream over a mile away. She is very difficult to please. My next question is:
4. What would make Mrs. McGregor think that garden plants need light from the sun in order to grow?
My final question is about Peter Rabbit and gang! I saw that rabbit the other day and he was carrying off a head of lettuce and some string beans just like he owned them. To add insult to injury, he had some of his friends with him. There was a mouse illegally carting off some peas in his mouth. I thought I saw a large bird overhead looking rather hungrily at the mouse. A woodchuck was munching on the heads of some broccoli plants while a rather large cat sat near by on a rock, as still as a statue, except for his tail, which kept switching back and forth. He was studying the goldfish in the garden pond. My final question is this:
Why is Peter Rabbit and gang always invading the garden and why would that large bird be interested in a mouse? Whose cat is that anyway and why is he always staring at the goldfish in the garden pond?
This is all so very confusing. Plants growing from seeds, stringy roots that are deemed to be valuable to plants! Plants that don’t like the dark but that actually need the heat from the sun and that bothersome Peter Rabbit who refuses to work for a living.
Well, I think I’ve bothered you enough. I do hope you can help. I eagerly await your response. In the meantime, I think I’ll pick some of those long stem roses I saw at the far end of the garden and give them to Mrs. McGregor. Maybe she’ll change her mind and talk to me!
Thanks for your help,
P.S. Now I’ve really done it! Those roses were for the Country Fair Rose Contest! I’m really beginning to
wonder if we really need plants at all. And all this talk about photosynthesis! What do you think?
After reading the letter to the children, you may want to introduce or re-introduce them to Mr. McGregor and Peter Rabbit in Beatrix Potter’s book, The Tale of Peter Rabbit.