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For Many of Us There Are Three Gardens

From December to March, there are for many of us three gardens – the garden outdoors, the garden of pots and bowls in the house, and the garden of the mind’s eye.” Katherine S. White

bag ladies teaLast week, when I was feeling under the weather, my son handed me a delicious cup of tea. It didn’t surprise me when he asked about what we could plant this summer to make our own tea. He is always planting in his mind’s eye, even in February – a challenging time for those with twitching green thumbs.

Last summer, we experimented with different types of mint to brew with our favorite tea (apple mint was the clear winner). This summer could be the season when we use new plants, such as chamomile, lemon balm, Angelica and Echinacea and mix flavors with some established plants, such as lavender and dandelion (just being honest), too.

potted mintBecause mint can be invasive, we use clay pots and either sink them into the beds or place them in an area with the right conditions. My twins, now young adults, have learned to plant gardens not only for the excitement and aesthetics but also with a practical aspect: herbs are near the grill, mint is outside the kitchen doors so we can easily cut some for tea, edibles are protected from rabbits and outside a door so gathering the crops is an easy chore.

This practical approach has developed over time and is based on the flower and vegetable gardens we planted when they were toddlers. Those were for the excitement only – no aesthetics, not practical and after the initial excitement, largely ignored.

With time, as the twins matured, the edible gardening beds first established on a lark (the result of sticking a tomato plant grown in a Styrofoam cup at nursery school in the ground) have become an integral part of our family’s landscape.

Recently, as they begin to learn how to cook and experiment with recipes, the garden’s selections are often based on recipe preferences. Fresh rosemary for grilled lamb, Italian herbs for marinara sauce and vegetables for the occasional salad.

Over 20 years ago, when my twins were barely walking much less gardening (our yard was, at that time, filled with sandboxes, a jungle gym and littered with play equipment), my husband proudly came home with what turned out to be a prescient gift.

Metal sculptureHow could we have known then how apt these treasured sculptures would be? Those metal sculptures of a young girl and boy with flowers and gardening tools in their hands and a bird on the boy’s head, foretold many important stories and traits in our family.

When the twins were in preschool, we carved out a small section of the yard for a children’s garden. In the beginning, I did most of the work and encouraged their participation by putting child sized gardening tools in their hands and giving them age appropriate tasks (watering, making lines in the dirt, planting seeds and putting colorful little plants along the border).

Over time, they showed more interest, were actively involved and looked forward to checking on the status of their work.

We planted for drama and change – it was fun measuring the height of a sunflower in comparison to their height. We picked flowers and I helped them arrange them in a paper cup to be admired by everyone. We successfully grew melons and selected plants with fun in mind: a sunflower maze, a teepee made of bamboo sticks and covered with vines to create a hiding spot and we always included pumpkins which, to this day, remain an important part of our gardening efforts.

In the summer before the twins started kindergarten, we grew different varieties of pumpkins. While looking at the selection of seeds at the nursery, my daughter chose the miniature variety while my son studied the pictures on each packet. He saw the seed package’s illustration with a HUGE carved pumpkin on it and there was no discussion about practicality or realities. The seeds were sown (so to speak).

pumpkinsKindergarten started and when it was my son’s turn for “Show and Tell” he took . . . a pumpkin. Better yet, it was so huge he had to carry it into school in a stroller. It was quite a sight. Unfortunately for my daughter, we weren’t quite as successful and I am sure she will tell you that experience scarred her for life. I did my best.

It doesn’t matter that this is a month when we’re not digging holes in our garden for plants – we’re planting ideas and soon we’ll select seeds to start for cold weather crops. (Did I tell you about the time my son grew cauliflower and gave it to his favorite sixth grade teacher? It’s safe to say that was a first for that teacher)

pumpkin seedsThe pumpkins that were once a novelty item are now part of our menu and a sentimental tradition. This year, we used the entire pumpkin – enjoying the seeds,

roasting pumpkins in the oven and scooping out the flesh for delicious homemade pies for Thanksgiving (“H” was for homemade – we had a “taste-off” for canned versus fresh pumpkin).

image013The herbs we planted outside were brought inside (although the rosemary seems to do just fine outdoors year round) and we enjoy cooking with our homegrown herbs.

Of course the twins would have never bothered with Thai basil, oregano, thyme, chives or hot peppers when they were young gardeners but now, they are maturing gardeners. They appreciate the flavor of fresh herbs in whatever is on the menu.

My son has built raised beds, learned how to protect the produce, amend the soil and laid a drip irrigation system. Last summer’s raised beds were a delight – one was a cutting garden (per my request) and the other was a beautiful, practical and delicious combination of produce.

cucumber bloomThe trellis my son built for pickling cucumbers was a good use of space and the cucumbers were fun to watch. It’s hard not to get excited at the sight of those first bright blossoms and the development of produce. Green beans, peas, 3 varieties of tomatoes, carrots and several varieties of lettuce were also in the edible bed.

The boy-girl metal sculptures are treasured as much today as they were decades ago and they represent our family’s growth – in all definitions. Those sculptures were like a fortuneteller’s ball and will continue to be an important reminder of what has developed over time.

eggs in nest

I’m thrilled that my twins enjoy gardening, appreciate the fruits of their labor and as for that bird on the little boy’s head? For now, they just placate my enthusiasm for the nesting birds in the climbing hydrangea and juniper tree. But it wouldn’t surprise me if one of these days, they, too, feel that excitement in discovering a nest filled with eggs and wait patiently for the hatching(s).

As Katherine White’s quote so beautifully expressed, this is a time of gardening, even though it’s a winter month. Please consider planting . . . all three kinds of gardens.

Posted By: Emily Stashower Behnkes Guest Blogger

Stephanie Fleming was raised at Behnke’s Nurseries in Beltsville. Her Mom, Sonja, was one of Albert & Rose Behnke’s four children. She was weeding from the moment she could walk and hiding as soon as she was old enough to run, so many weeds, so little time. Although she quickly learned how to pull out a perennial and get taken off of weed pulling duty.

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Thank you for the wonderful comments and enthusiasm – so nice to know there’s another generation learning to garden. It will be rewarding to watch them grow! I appreciate the time you’ve all taken to read the post and comment. Spread the word and yes, all puns are intended. . . . Emily

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