By Robin Jovanovich
Life is like a well-designed garden, at least for Anne Mottola, who is rooted in creativity and spreads wonder wherever she sows.
Teaching and gardening are in her blood and she figured out how to enjoy careers in both. At Osborn School, she has not only taught, but also created the school garden. She holds a certificate in gardening from the New York Botanical Garden, where she works from March through early November and instills a love of gardens and gardening in young children, generally second graders, after school.
“Part of my job at the Botanical Garden is to create lesson plans,” said Mottola. The more she wrote about the benefits of insects and herbs, starting from seed, harvesting techniques, and incredible edibles, the more she thought about writing a series of children’s books on gardening that included activities.
She had a willing partner in her sister, Maria Mottola, an illustrator and graphic designer. After a friend suggested Anne approach the Botanical Garden, she met with the vice president of children’s education. “They have a publishing arm but had never published children’s books — until ours this year!”
The Mottola sisters presented three proposals for three different books, and NYBG Press now sells them individually or as a boxed set. “What Grows in the Garden?” is followed by “What Lives in the Garden?” and “What Do You Sense in the Garden?” All are geared for ages 4 and up. And there are clues on every page.
The first book is dedicated to her father, a teacher for 35 years, with whom she used to garden growing up. The second is dedicated to her grandmother, after whom she’s named; and the third is dedicated to her siblings.
“I love the fact that there is an educational component to what I do,” said Mottola. “But I love trying to get children to appreciate gardens and the outdoors even more.”
The Osborn School garden grew out of her desire to see the outdoors used as a classroom. The principal asked Mottola to develop garden-based lessons, and, in short order, she added scavenger hunts and writing activities, and was helping dig a garden.
Adding a cautionary note, she said, “Starting a garden is easy, but maintaining it is hard, especially over the summer.” She is, however, proud to report that they’d harvested three pounds of beans by mid-summer.
“I am honored to work at NYBG, but I love the Osborn garden — it’s private and I feel an ownership.” She added, “Gardening toughens you up but it is also very therapeutic.”
Growing up in Long Island, Mottola lived a short walk from the public library, where she found respite as “one of five children in a noisy household.” She dreamed of one day writing children’s books, which happened organically.
This summer she’s done a number of library readings, and later this month, gather round and listen to her read from “Wonders in the Garden” at Jay Day. Prepare to be inspired.
One book is dedicated to her father, with whom she used to garden.
Anne Mottola tending to her deck garden