THE MAGIC OF THE HERB GARDEN
Deep in the Southern Wood, as the ghostly moonlight gave way to a pink-hued dawn, the beautiful Princess of Tarragon, Valerie Finnis, readied herself for the day’s festivities. As she donned her gown, the shimmering Silver Brocade and the billowy Silver Mounds of Fringed lace fell perfectly around her. It had been her cousin, David’s Choice whom she was to wed.
He was the powerful Arch Duke of Sandhill and she was bound to his royal will. She resisted at first, but soon she came to love the Roman King. And, so it came to pass that after the happy couple was toasted with many Mugs of Wort, the King and his new Queen lived happily ever after in the grand Castle of Powys.
Gardening with herbs brings out the child in all of us. It has been many years since my daughter and I stood knee deep in Artemisia and devised this tale. All of the bold words represent different Artemisias and every time we told the story it changed a little. Her favorite plant was always Powys Castle Artemisia. From age two until about seven she called it “Palace Castle” and there was never a grander place in anyone’s imagination. She enjoyed the garden for the creativity it inspired.
On the other hand, her younger brother took a purely practical view. I used to wonder if he would leave any Fennel for the swallowtails. For him the joy was gastronomic and licorice flavors reigned supreme. As a toddler he would question me everyday (at least it seemed like everyday), “Where is the tarragon? Where is the licorice mint?” Chives also gave him great pleasure with their hollow tubes like straws. And, while pesto was a yucky green goo, Basil leaves were a prize possession. Many sunny afternoons were filled with making “soup” in his child-sized wheelbarrow. His father and I and his older sister, who often supervised these gourmet sessions, were always relieved that he thought the soup always needed just a few more trimmings and a bit more time to “cook”.
The most important rule about gardening with our children is to make no rules. Our duty is to make it easy and fun. If that means we are the ones to water when the plant is near death, then so be it. Give your child’s plants the best soil, the best sun, and the best care and you and your child will have the best time. Gardening with children is not about education nor is it about teaching them responsibility. It is about having fun and making moments your and your child will always remember. They will learn many things from your time together and so will you.
Plants used around children should be grown without chemical fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides. Make sure you know what the plant is and that it is safe to use. Always start with a small amount of any herb the first time you let a child put it in their mouth or on their skin.
full sun/zone 4 Take the kids out to the garden in the mornings so they can explore the little yellow daisy with the rare chocolate smell. Feel free to pick a few, it opens new flowers everyday and blooms from spring until frost. It does well in a gallon or larger container too! Collect the large seeds when they turn brown and feel dry. Label and store in a dry place for planting next spring.
full sun/zone 5 All parts of thislavender are fragrant and can be used in cooking or crafts. Avoid putting plants where puddles form. If humidity is a problem consider a large container filled with coarse potting soil. Lavender wands can be gathered at anytime. To dry, hang upside down in small bunches or just place upright in a small vase with no water. Once dry, buds are easily jostled lose. Place in several layers of cheesecloth and tie with a ribbon. Cut back flowers and about a third of the bush in late summer.
full sun/part sun annual German Chamomile is an annual that grows quickly and can be harvested once or twice during the growing season. Scented of apples the mass of tiny white daisies quickly become lemony cones perfect for picking. Flowers can be used fresh or dried and can be brewed up into tea (which soothed Peter Rabbit’s tummy) or added to ice cubes and used in summer time teas. Seeds left behind bring new plants.
Tea parties in the garden are great for little ones. Chocolate Daisy, German Chamomile, Wild Watermelon flowers and Chocolate Mint leaves can all be used to make sun tea. The combinations and amounts are endless. Pint size mason jars are best for very small children. Wash the leaves, stems or flowers. An easy way to do this is to swish them in the jar and then drain. Add fresh water and let the jar sit all day in the sun. It will turn a rich golden brown. Strain out the leaves and add a touch of sweetener (optional). Refrigerate. Start your tea in the morning and have your party in the afternoon. A trip to a thrift store to pick out a special tea cup makes the day even more fun.
full sun/part sun zone 5 Mint is perfect for tiny hands. Because it is spreads out quickly by runners and can be invasive, it should be planted into a wide container not less than 12 inches across and 6 inches deep. The reddish-green stems of mint grow upward for most of the summer and can be cut at any time. As fall approaches, the mint may bloom, which can attract butterflies which also delights tots. Before winter hits cut back the remainder of the mint and dry it. Next spring the mint will need to be divided and repotted into more than one pot.
Making ice cream from herbs is a fun way to use what your child has grown.
Mint Ice Cream
A summer treat!
- 1 1/2 cups nonfat milk
- 2 cups whipping cream
- 1 cup half and half
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon vanilla
- several sprigs of mint
If using fresh lavender:
With thumb and forefinger, pull the flowers from the stems (discarding stems). If using dried lavender you won’t need this step.
Put mint in a saucepan with the nonfat milk and bring just to a boil and turn off. Let sit for 10 minutes, remove mint and chill. Once cold, add the rest of the ingredients and whisk well. Add to ice cream freezer. Chocolate chips or other goodies can be added during the last few minutes of churning. Makes 2 quarts.
full sun/zone 6 This is a big bush with bold fruity fragrance and lovely large watermelon colored flowers. Decorate cupcakes or add the flowers to salads, soups, egg dishes or drinks. Flowers are attractive to hummingbirds which brings another chance for little ones to be enthralled in the garden. Plant near a window for a continuous show. Cut back about a third of the bush in fall.
full sun/part sun zone 4 Soft fuzzy leaves provide endless possibilities for young imaginations to work. Lamb’s Ears make fun little wash cloths on a hot day or can be used as a soft bookmark. Lamb’s Ears take almost no care as long as they are not over watered. Tall spikes of pink fuzzy flowers appear in spring. Leave these on and new plants will pop up in new places the next year.
Additional plants to consider
The plants listed here make excellent additions to this collection. Click through to read more about them or add them to your order.