If you want to get kids to enjoy gardening, give them a plant that is going to be dramatic, make it just a little bit competitive and offer an incentive — a carrot, or cabbage, on a stick.

That is the idea behind the National Bonnie Plants Cabbage Program, which was conducted in 20 Maine schools this year and which the company hopes to expand in the state next year.

Dylan Jones, a student at Wiscasset Christian Academy, was the winner of this year’s contest in Maine, winning a $1,000 bond designed to be used for his college education.

Angie Edwards, Dylan’s teacher, said this year was the first time she had participated in the program, and that she considered it a success even before she had a student who won.

“We have children learn about plants in science, parts of the plant and things like that,” Edwards said. “But we are a very small school and don’t have room for the hands-on part of learning. This is a way to give a little bit of an incentive so kids can learn about gardening at home.”

Dylan’s mother, Julie Jones, said he was excited to take on the planting project.

“His father and I told him that if he was going to do this, it was going to be all on his own,” she said. “And he did it all, watering, weeding and everything. He was pretty excited when it actually started grow.”

She and her husband, Chad, have a garden at home, and Dylan might have helped a little with the cucumbers, but this was pretty much his first attempt at gardening.

The program works by having schools sign up, either online at bonnieplants.com or with a company representative who drops by the school. Then, when it is the appropriate time for cabbage planting for each school, the company representative will drop the seedlings off, giving one to each third-grader.

When Dylan won the $1,000 prize, some of his fellow students had a bit of regret.

“When we ended up with a student chosen as the winner,” Edwards said, “some of the students said ‘Oh, I let my plant die’ or ‘I forgot to plant it.’ I told them that if you water your plant, you might be a winner, too.”

The contest isn’t cutthroat competition, said Joan Casanova, a company spokeswoman. Each school sends in a picture of one of its students and the cabbage that student grew, and those pictures are sent to the agriculture commissioner in each state, who makes a random drawing.

Bonnie is a national company that grows seedlings at 75 different growing facilities across the country.

If you purchase your seedlings at a national chain store in Maine — Home Depot, Lowe’s, Walmart and Kmart, for example — there is a good chance you are buying Bonnie plants. The plants also are sold at several local hardware and feed stores across the state.

The plant used was O.S. Cross, an oversized cabbage. The advice that comes with it is to plant the seedling where it will get at least six hours of sunshine daily, give the plant at least three feet on each side, put a lot of compost in the soil when you plant it, make sure that it gets at least an inch of water a week, and fertilize it every 10 days with an all-purpose vegetable fertilizer.

The Bonnie cabbage program has been going on for 15 years, but Maine has not been a state with a lot of participation, Casanova said, and the company would like to get more schools taking part.

“Gardening provides children with a safe place to experience nature, discover the cycles of life and develop an understanding of our environment,” Bonnie president Stan Cope said in a press release. “It also exposes children, firsthand, to the benefits of growing your own nutritious food and it’s a great source of physical activity.”

And besides, cabbage is good for you.

Tom Atwell can be contacted at 791-6362 or at:

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