Do you find that your herb garden brings out your inner child? The garden is a great place to play with both your inner child and real children, who get along very well together. Invite them all for a playful day of making crafts using materials from the garden. Bring scissors, a gathering basket, and a sense of fun.
Below are three projects to make with and for children. For ages eight to twelve (or younger if the child knows how to braid), there are pretty ponytail holders and friendship bracelets made from sweet grass (Hierochloe odorata). For ages six and older (younger girls will need adult assistance), dreaming heart bouquets can hold a child’s double handful of gatherings from the garden. Finally, dried-flower barrettes are challenging enough for older girls ages ten to fifteen, or for an adult who wants to make a special gift for a little girl’s dress-up occasion.
You’ll want to hit the craft store first for materials such as barrette backs, wood veneer, and ribbons or lacings; then gleefully go searching for the natural materials. When your baskets are full, go inside, have a cup of peppermint tea, and enjoy a day of making things from the garden.
Dreaming Heart Herb Baskets
These baskets are for hanging on the wall near sleeping heads. Mugwort and yarrow were traditionally used to influence happy dreams, but you and your children can use any herb or flower that brings you delight. Angelica, St. John’s wort, lemon balm, roses, lavender, and linden are excellent choices; lamb’s-ears and dried sage also work well. Let your child add any dried weeds or flowers that enchant her with their color or shape.
If your child is too young to use pointed scissors, prepare the punched hearts in advance, and supervise closely as she laces the hearts together.
1-foot-square piece of basswood, birch or maple veneer, birch bark, fancy handmade paper or construction paper for each heart basket
Heart pattern, about 5 inches across and 6 inches tall
Scissors, large and smaller curved-blade scissors
Drywall or X-acto knife
Leather or paper punch
1- to 2-inch natural-bristle paintbrush
1 to 11/2 yards ribbon, yarn, or sweet grass per heart
Large-eyed, blunt-tipped crewel needle or bodkin
Beads, bells, or other embellishments
Dried flowers and herbs
Floral foam and/or masking tape (optional)
1. Create a heart pattern by tracing the heart pattern at left. Using a sharp pencil, carefully trace the heart pattern onto veneer or paper twice. If you’re using veneer, be sure that the centerline of the hearts is placed parallel to the grain of the wood. This will help prevent the points from breaking off.
2. Mark places along the sides where you’ll punch holes, 1/4 inch from the edge and 3/4 inch apart. Stop where the straight part of the heart’s side ends and the curve begins.
3. If using veneer, soak the marked sheet overnight in warm water. This will render it pliable and much less likely to split along the grain lines.
4. Cut out the hearts. If using veneer, you may want to cut straight across the rounded tops of the heart, then use smaller scissors to cut out the notch of the “V”. Or you can place the heart on a cutting board and use a drywall or X-acto knife to cut out that area.
5. With a leather or paper punch, punch the holes around the lower edges, being sure that the holes in both hearts line up.
6. If you’re using paper, skip to step 8. If using veneer, color it using undiluted watercolor paints. Hold each heart by the edges and stroke firmly downward to spread the color evenly.
7. Lay the hearts on waxed paper for about 15 minutes to allow the ink to soak in.
8. Sandwich each heart between paper towels and cover both sides with waxed paper. Weight the hearts with books or plates so that they will dry flat, and leave them for a day. Check them the next day. If they are not quite dry, leave them out to finish drying until they are dry to the touch. (It’s okay if they curl up a little.)
9. Lace the hearts together using ribbon, yarn, or sweet grass. Choose one side to be the back side, and place all knots on that side. Whipstitch up each side of the heart, allowing the ribbon or sweet grass to show. If you wish, embellish the ribbon lacing with beads or bells. Tie the excess together to form a hanging handle.
10. Fill the heart with dried herbs, flowers, leaves, or other dried materials. A special stone or crystal can go in as well. If you like a sparser arrangement, but the flowers won’t hold their position, you can use floral foam inside the heart, or masking tape to hold floral sprays together.
Sweet Grass & Beads Ponytail Holders
Fresh or dried, undyed sweet grass (to find dried sweet grass, see “About Sweet Grass,” at right.)
Beads or small bells (their holes should be slightly smaller than those of pony beads)
Fabric-covered, elastic ponytail holders in colors to match the beads
Large bowl of warm water
1. If you’re using dried sweet grass, soak it in a large bowl of warm water for a half hour to an hour to render it more pliable. (I like to have a snack and tell stories while the sweet grass soaks.)
2. Gather six or nine strands of sweet grass; trim the ends to even them up. Tie an overhand knot about 11/2 inches from the bundled ends. Check to make sure the beads you’re using can be coaxed over the knot. (If they can’t, trim off the knot and remove some of the grass from the bundle. Re-knot.) If it can, remove the bead and commence dividing the bundled grass stems into three equal parts. Braid the strands right over center, then left over center until you have about 8 inches of fine, tightly plaited braid.
3. Tie a knot in the end, and trim so that there’s about 11/2 inches of fringe.
4. Coax a few beads over the knotted ends—enough beads to be decorative, but still allow some of the braid to show. Tie a second knot over the first one in each end so the beads will stay on the strand.
5. Completed braids can be worn as friendship bracelets or ankle bracelets, or knotted onto ponytail holders. To attach them to elastic ponytail holders, loop the braid in half, put the loop through the holder, and pull its ends through the loop. To make bracelets or ankle bracelets, tie a long braid loosely around the wrist or ankle, allowing enough slack for the beads to move. They can also be used to tie the ends of pigtails. If the sweet grass becomes brittle, wet it before tying.
Floral Fantasy Barrettes
Girls of all ages enjoy making these dress-up delights, which look like delicate little sculptures.
Small dried flowers, leaves, and bracts of roses, celosia, salvia, basil, lamb’s-ears, butterfly bush, lavender, or others
Thin cardboard (cereal boxes work well)
Spring-back barrette backs (available at fabric and craft stores)
Scraps of lacy ribbon or net fabric
Fabric-covered floral wire (optional)
Felt or non-woven fabric interfacing
“Tacky” glue or other very thick craft glue
Popsicle sticks or coffee stirrers to spread glue
Rubber bands of various sizes
A large drinking glass or small coffee can
Drying the flowers
Most small flowers can be dried on an old window screen. If you want to create interesting curves in the small stems, trim the stems of the fresh flowers to about 6 to 8 inches long. Bind them with a rubber band. Then, instead of drying them on a screen, position the stems on a horizontal surface so that the flowers hang over the edge. Hold the stems in place with a weight such as a book. As the flowers dry, gravity will make the flower heads droop. Some will develop more graceful curves than others, so you’ll want to dry several bundles in order to have lots of choices.
Another method involves draping the flowers over a curved cylindrical object, such as a narrow drinking glass or an empty paper towel tube, and holding it in place with rubber bands. The stems will curve to its surface as they dry. (You can also ‘tweak’ plant material while it dries to coax it into a pleasing shape.)
I occasionally experiment with microwave drying, especially during humid weather. The open rose in the large barrette photographed here was microwaved on medium for three minutes, then coaxed into an open form and placed on a screen to finish drying slowly. (If you are unfamiliar with your microwave, it is best to begin my microwaving on low for three minutes and increase the time while monitoring until blossoms are dried.) Microwaved blossoms sometimes retain form and delicate colors better than air-dried flowers.
Assembling the barrettes
1. Cut a rectangle from scrap cardboard for each barrette, about 11/4 by 31/2 inches for the small ones and about 3 by 6 inches for larger ones. (These rectangles will be trimmed to their final size and shape later.) Experiment with the placement and positioning of dried flowers and leaves until you are satisfied with their layout. Flat, textured leaves such as lamb’s-ears make a lovely background; rosebuds add texture and color.
2. If you are using any small, delicate flowers such as salvias, that will be positioned to extend beyond the cardboard base’s final size, you may need to support them with netting or lacy ribbon in the same color as the flowers. Cut the netting larger than the cardboard and glue it to the cardboard, letting the glue come through the holes in the lace.
3. Place the flowers carefully and glue them, building up each layer and covering the stem ends with other blooms. Bind the stems of floral sprays together with floral wire first, so they can be glued in place as one unit. Then use other flowers to cover the stems. Fill in any gaps with small rosebuds, salvia, lavender, or other tiny blooms. Use tweezers to place any particularly tiny blooms.
4. To give the cardboard a curve that will match the curve in the barrette backs, use rubber bands or masking tape to hold the cardboard around a large drinking glass or coffee can while the glue sets.
5. When the glue is dry, cut the excess cardboard away from the flowers. Then fold any excess netting or ribbon over and glue it to the back of the cardboard backing. Cut an oversize piece of felt or non-woven interfacing to cover the back side of the cardboard. Glue this in place, and stand the barrette on its side while the glue dries.
6. Carefully glue the felt side of the assembled piece to the barrette. Be sure to place it on the barrette the way you want it to look in your little girl’s hair.
Louise Gruenberg lives in Oak Park, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. Her book Herbal Home Hints (Rodale, 1999) won the International Herb Association’s 2000 Book Award for best book in the general category.