A light drizzle and gray sky did nothing to dim the enthusiasm of a group of preteens as they planted flowers and shrubs on Independence Mall yesterday as a way to deepen their interest in nature.

The children, from the Germantown and Nicetown Boys and Girls Clubs, were participating in First Bloom, a new program of the National Park Foundation that teaches children about nature through planting and gardening projects.

The program is designed to help children learn how to protect fragile ecosystems by planting native species in national parks and how to raise gardens in their neighborhoods.

With equal measures of pride and excitement, the youngsters put down marigolds, New Jersey tea, hydrangeas, sweet azaleas, and other plants to build a garden at the back of Carpenters Hall, 320 Chestnut St., which hosted the First Continental Congress in 1774.

Nadir Jackson, 12, of the Germantown Boys and Girls Club at 25 Penn St., smiled as he used a shovel to dig a hole for planting.

"I think it's fun, I think it's a good thing to do, and I think it's very interesting," Nadir said of his work on First Bloom.

Nadir, who attends Fitler Academic Plus School in Germantown, planted marigolds and New Jersey tea, a low deciduous shrub whose leaves can be used to make the beverage. He wants to bring his family to see the garden this summer.

Jordan Ross, 10, who also goes to Germantown Boys and Girls Club and attends Fitler Academic Plus, said he'd had a green thumb for a few years.

"I love planting with my grandmom. I like pulling weeds and planting flowers and vegetables," Jordan said.

Among the things he said he had learned in First Bloom is "if you see a bulb, you can replant it. I didn't know that."

"I like planting flowers and keeping the environment safe," Jordan said.

First Bloom is launching programs in five cities: Philadelphia, New York, Los Angeles, Washington and Austin, Texas. The program is sponsored by Aramark, the Philadelphia food-service and uniform company.

Matt Ferris, program director of youth engagement for the National Park Service, said that in each First Bloom city, only native plants are used.

"Everything they are planting here is a native plant of Philadelphia, and they also are trying to incorporate plants you would have seen when Carpenters Hall was established," Ferris said.

Darlena Graves, education coordinator for the Germantown Boys and Girls Club, said that she brought nine children from her club and that they had adapted well to the project.

"Learning with doing is different from learning with lecturing," Graves said. "They learned a lot in the garden, and they don't even mind the weather."

Janiah Seibert, 10, of the Nicetown Boys and Girls Club in the 4200 block of Wayne Avenue, who attends Logan Elementary School, said she enjoyed gardening.

"It's fun, and I get to spend time outside with my friends," she said.