We have a small herb garden just off of our deck. It’s low-maintenance, easily accessible, and it looks pretty, which makes me happy. But lately my favorite part about it is that it’s a new activity for my curious toddler, Penelope.
For example, the other morning we found a spider had spun a web right over our entire patch of herbs. Penelope quickly became immersed in watching the dew droplets beaded on the web, glistening in the sunlight. This kept her still long enough for me to enjoy a few sips of coffee, but we learned a few things, too: that the web is the spider’s “house”, that the spider protects the herb garden from other pests, and that we don’t touch a spider’s web, ever, because spiders. *SHUDDER.*
The garden encourages me to use the herbs, and while some weeks I find it impossible to cook, I use them in even simpler ways. For example, once a week we fill a pitcher with water and add some mint or lemon balm leaves for flavor. We sometimes add some sliced lemon, or cucumber, too. It’s so refreshing! This gorgeous looking, flavored water encourages Penelope to drink more water too, which is an even bigger bonus.
There’s a misconception about gardens that you need to be fancy, or have a lot of space, or spend hours of maintenance, but this is far from the truth. A small herb garden takes minimal time and maintenance.
Here are a few more reasons we love having an herb garden:
- Herbs provide micronutrients, and having them literally at your fingertips will encourage you to utilize them.
- You’ll have a new activity and learning opportunity for your toddler.
- It is visually appealing (and what’s better than an edible landscape?!)
- You’ll have instant flavor ready for happy hour (Mint for Mojitos! Strawberry Vodka Basil Lemonade! Prosecco with Rosemary and Fresh Berries! But really, YOUR GARDEN IS FOR THE CHILDREN.)
We could go on and on about the benefits! Here’s how you can get started.
How to Plant an Herb Garden with Your Toddler
Get your toddler excited. A simple bumblebee watering can, once assigned to Penelope, quickly became the new favorite item around here. I explained that it is hers to use to take care of the herbs, and now every morning she charges the door with excitement to water the garden. You don’t need anything fancy or specific – maybe it’s a plastic pitcher you already have that you can paint together, or you could even head over to the dollar section of Target, where I recently spotted a ton of garden tools made for little hands. The point is to explain to your little one what you are doing, and give them something to get them involved.
Choose a location. You want a sunny spot close to your home, so you have easy access to run and grab some herbs when you need them. You don’t even need to plant them directly into the ground. Which brings me to our next tip…
Use pots. Pots can be easier, especially if you have a patio, porch, or deck. Some herbs, such as mint and lemon balm, are highly invasive so it’s better to keep those contained in a pot anyway. When planted in the ground, they will take over your yard if left unchecked. Purchase a pot with holes in the bottom at your local home improvement store (or drill some yourself in a pot you already have), add a layer of rocks first (this allows for proper drainage), then fill with dirt, and plant your herbs. You will not believe how easy this is!
Think “low maintenance”, and “hearty”. Where we are, in Charlotte, certain herbs are able to survive the winter. Because of this our thyme, rosemary, oregano and onion chives that we planted four years ago are still going strong! Since these types of herbs are a bit more hearty and strong, they don’t need much attention from me. Don’t worry about bothering with seeds, either: we went to our local farmer’s market, picked up some small organic herb plants, and planted those. Done!
Encourage sensory exploration. One of Penelope’s favorite things to do is run her hands along the rosemary and then put them up to her face, and go: “MMMMMM! Rosemary!” It’s the cutest thing, but also, she is learning: about the strong smell of the rosemary, the soft texture of the sage leaves, how to tell thyme from oregano by their appearance. She loves exploring, and is slowly realizing that we use the herbs for cooking and we don’t rip them up or tear them apart. (That part takes time, so expect them to rip and tear leaves for a little while.) She also loves telling people all about her “regano” and “yemon balm”.
Use the herbs. Make a simple pesto with your basil, and spread it on the bread of your grilled chicken sandwich; fill a pitcher with ice water and add a few sprigs of mint; add some thyme and oregano to a simple pasta dish with garlic and olive oil; snip some rosemary and add it to a pot of boiling water along with lemon slices and vanilla extract to give your home a wonderful, natural “air freshener”. The possibilities are endless!
Lastly, we hope you have fun with your herb garden, but remember: try not to get too attached. I’ve learned you have to approach gardening without getting too emotional about it, because you may very quickly learn that your toddler has run outside and ripped up all of your basil, or that the wascally wabbits ate all of your “yemon balm”. But at the very least, we hope you have some mint for that well-deserved mojito at the end of the day.
If you enjoyed this post, sign up to receive our newsletter for other great ideas on feeding your baby, toddler, and family. Look out for our upcoming cookbook What a Good Eater! for baby & toddler recipes with healthy herbs and spices to add flavor and broaden your baby’s palette, expected 2016.
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