Planting Seeds and Watching Them Grow
Add a creative twist to your herb garden by planning a theme garden. Plant a "pizza" garden with oregano, thyme, marjoram, and basil. When it comes time to harvest, your child will enjoy making his own pizza seasoning. Plant a tea garden with chamomile, dandelion, fennel, and mints. Or plant lavender, marigold, and echinacea for an herb garden that will attract butterflies and hummingbirds.
No matter what you decide, be sure to look for herbs to stimulate your child's sense of touch and smell, as well as taste. Here is a short list of herbs that are sure to inspire any child's curiosity and imagination.
German Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla)
This annual herb grows well in full to partial sun. It is easy to plant and produces small, daisy-like flowers. Harvest the buds and dry them for chamomile tea. Read the Beatrix Potter story, Peter Rabbit with your child and he will love thinking of the story while sipping his own chamomile tea. This herb is beneficial for children of all ages in helping treat gas and colic, teething, sleeplessness, and stomach upsets. You can also make sachets with the dried flowers for the bath, or to use in potpourri.
Calendula (Calendula officinalis)
An annual herb offering beautiful flowers, calendula is also a common ingredient in many lotions and balms that are used in treating skin inflammations and burns. Plant the seeds in full sun and expect to see the flower stalks reach a height of two feet. If you are planting outside, find a good spot where this plant can establish itself, and watch it come back thicker with each passing year. Calendula petals can be used in soups, stews, and salads; the flowers make a nice addition to homemade soaps and potpourri.
Catnip (Nepata cataria)
This grassy perennial loves lots of sun, and grows tall stalks that eventually produce bluish flowers. In addition to being a fun plant to grow if you have a family cat, catnip is also a valuable herb to have on hand for treating diarrhea in children. Harvest the leaves and flowers for tea; or dry it and sew batches into balls for your cat to pat around the house. Although cats and humans love its pleasant aroma, deer greatly dislike catnip and more and more gardeners are growing this plant as a successful deer-resistant ground covering.
Lavender (Lavendula officinalis)
Known for its distinct fragrance, your family will enjoy this perennial long after the garden is gone. The plant grows tall, elegant stalks (up to 18 inches), topped by purple flowers. Dry the flowers for sachets or soaps. Lavender is very relaxing and can be added to the bath, or sewn into lavender pillows (look for empty tea bags at your local health food store or co-op; or use a coffee filter and tie it with a twist-tie or twine).
Spearmint (Mentha spicata)
Delicious and aromatic, spearmint is also hearty and extremely easy to grow. The perennial should be planted outdoors with caution—mints are invasive plants and can take over a garden in no time. Many growers suggest keeping this herb in a pot. The plant will grow to approximately three feet tall, sending out long lilac flower shoots. Dry the leaves for tea; or cut a fresh sprig to put in your child's lemonade or ice cream.
"The garden is a place of nourishment, learning, fun, and solace," writes Cheryl Dorschner (www.kidsgardening.com), "but it's no benign environment. It's certainly not 'childproof' no matter what the age of the child."
When gardening with your child, you'll need to keep an eye on him at all times. Watch those curious hands to be sure he doesn't put anything unwanted in his mouth—such as dirt, unwashed herbs, or insects. Since you are creating this garden especially for your child, try not to use pesticides and fertilizers. Your safest bet is to keep weed killers and other garden chemicals under lock and key—or better yet, off your property. Use natural methods instead.
Invest in an inexpensive set of garden tools for your child. Small hands need small tools, and using adult-sized tools can be both dangerous and frustrating for your child. Child-sized tools are available at www.gardenscape.ca (along with some fun garden projects for kids—such as bughouses).