Marguerite Dunne is a city girl and traveler. Visit her website Herbs On Hudson or listen to her radio show, The Urban Herbalist. Marguerite was also the third place winner in The Herb Companion's 2008 essay contest, "Looking Forward to Herbs."
Summertime means my black-eyed Susans will return, along with this year’s burdock, comfrey and lemon balm, all bowing in to delight. My kittens have been waiting for the catnip; life does not get much better than sleeping in the catnip on a sunny day. And leaves from the chocolate peppermint are perfect to add to the creamy chocolate peppermint frozen coconut milk we have for desert after our Sunday family meal. Picking up my brand new shears, today I get to gather the deep blue hydrangea and hardy margaritas, daisies, with a few of the lavender tops of the Russian sage for bouquets in the parlor. Gardening is fun. The only thing more fun than tending my garden is introducing a child to my garden. Gardening tools are real and fun and somehow extensions of the wonderful toys they may be leaving behind. What is more fun than digging in the dirt? Or better yet, playing in the mud? (Remember your first mud pie?)
The children come from all over the neighborhood, along with my little nephews and nieces who’ve been driven a hundred miles to visit their “interesting aunt.” Those little fingers can weed in between the sharp stalks and prickly thistles, and there’s no green leaf they won’t try to nibble on, not when it’s one they’re tending in the garden. When a child can go out and gather real lettuce leaves and juicy red tomatoes and dancing sprigs of parsley for a salad, or to add to a yummy quinoa pasta made with sassy basil into a peppered pesto, not only is it fun to eat healthy, but the child’s sense of accomplishment goes through the roof. Not just pictures, my effort can really create something.
It’s too easy to push a button on a computer and see a whole screen reconfigure to some cityscape or medieval village or dancing show or wretched explosion. You don’t get that response in a garden. You just can’t walk outside and expect to see yesterday’s seed become a 3-foot tall burdock in one day. The seed needs some sun and some rain and some sun and some earth and some rain and some air and some rain and some time and then even more time. A garden takes time to grow.
Photo by Marina Lohrbach/Fotolia
When the 100-year-old pine tree had to be cut down, it changed all the light in the garden. All the hostas that had sat nearby had to be dug up in the early spring and moved to shadier spots. The rose of Sharon did not like living near the hops vine. The crab grass and parsley have to be moved to where the kittens can easily nibble their greens in the morning. And the licorice is no longer flourishing next to the columbine, as its gotta find another spot somewhere. Every plant needs the right place to grow.
The morning glory seeds have sprouted in between the impatiens, and there are several stray ferns among the lemon balm. The butterfly bush is too bushy, and it’s blocking the light for the rue. The comfrey is almost ready to flower, so it’s time to gather the leaves for the salve. There is always something to tend to, there’s always something to do in the garden.
We have fun on this Sunday afternoon, with tools and flowers and getting ready for dinner. We are really doing things! And helping, oh how a child loves to help … I watch the faces of my young nephews as they describe the kinds of experiments they can create when they find out that the yellow dock will help cleanse their blood. Another idea, how great! As Mother Nature has evolved her garden, so are the lessons evolving. There’s always something to do in the garden.
Here is a favorite book with ideas for creating herb gardens: Bud, Blossom, & Leaf: The Magical Herb Gardener’s Handbook by Dorothy Morrison. Go out and create!