Round Robin: Tea Among the Herbs

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ATLANTA, Georgia–Mother’s Day is a day for garden tours and tea parties. Because Atlanta’s spring is about a month ahead of much of the rest of the country, our April resembles May in these places while our own May is like June in its warm temperatures and the growth and maturity of fragrant herbs and blooming flowers. As the two most beautiful months of the gardening calendar, April and May have their fair share of home and garden tours and “tea with Mom” events.

One May afternoon while on a tour of private gardens, I found myself at the event’s refreshment concession. Those women who could be spared from their gardens were merrily squeezed under an umbrella, boiling water in big kettles, bumping into each other in a good- natured way, enthusiastically serving up cookies and scones and jam as fast as they could in a pervading aura of high glee. On tables stood dozens of little two-cup teapots, creamers, and teacups, none of which matched any of the others. Blue-and-white Delft, stolid brown stoneware, fat pink cabbage roses on curvaceously squatty cups, sophisticated hand-thrown pottery with iridescent glazes, formal white with gold rims, cups and saucers with scalloped edges, yellow basket-weave, every make and pattern of china all blending cheerfully together.

For two dollars, I could select a cup, fill it with my choice of tea, and add honey, raw sugar, lemon, and/or milk to taste. Besides old favorites such as Earl Gray, Irish Breakfast, peppermint, blackberry, lemon verbena, and sage, unusual herb blends were available: rose hips, hibiscus, and raspberry leaf; spearmint, elderberry, and lemon balm; and chamomile and apple mint.

I found a serene spot, where I sat down to make notes on ideas gained from the tour that I might someday use in to my own garden. In one garden, crimson thyme (Thymus praecox subsp. arcticus ‘Coccineus’) crept over the bricks. In another, knotted marjoram and sunny golden marguerites brightened a stacked stone wall, and in a third, hundreds of tiny terra-cotta flower pots edged the herb bed. Chatting with like-minded gardeners while sipping a cup of fragrant tea and resting from the strenuous business of a garden tour is a blissful way to pass an April or May afternoon.

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