My first experience growing herbs started out as a total failure. My sister-in-law had gifted me a “grow your own cilantro” kit, complete with seeds nestled deep into a small plastic-lined paper bag. The first instructions had been to rip open the bag, add a little water, and place somewhere warm. Looking around my 400 square foot apartment, with just two tiny windows to the outside world, the oven seemed the perfect spot. It might have been, until the next time I went to make cookies and pre-heated my tiny seedlings into charcoal. Oops.
In our next small apartment we had a great second floor patio, that I decked out with floating railing planters. I hopefully filled them with flowers and added a basil plant from Trader Joe’s that I had been pulling leaves from for homemade pizzas on Fridays. Although the patio was outside, it turned out not to have any direct sunlight, due to the large shade tree and orientation that kept the patio shaded all day long. The flowers and basil slowly shriveled up and died, and I wondered if I was any good at this gardening thing.
We had chosen the apartment based on that tree–some bits of nature right outside the window that otherwise faced the concrete parking lot. And the shade was perfect for enjoying the patio for meals, reading, or playing outside. It just didn’t work out for a garden. A garden only needs a couple things to be happy, and sunlight is definitely one of them.
When we moved to Texas, six years and three kids after baking my first little seeds to death, I was primed and ready for a garden. I decided to once again start with herbs. This time, I kept them close to the house, planted in small built-in planters off of the back porch where they not only get sun, but I remember to water them when I walk outside. Rather than begin with seeds, I collected a few favorite herbs as baby plants at the nursery of Home Depot. And thus our herb garden was born. It has been four years, and the plants not only survive, but thrive in the rich potting soil, watered with love by my little ones, and warmed by the Texas sunlight.
Growing even this tiny garden has been a huge source of joy, confidence, and fun for our family, and we have since added fruit trees to our yard because there is nothing like the accomplishment of eating something you grow yourself.
We could have planted boxes and boxes of vegetables and jumped into gardening with both feet in this sun-filled yard, but starting with a small herb garden has been the best introduction for us. There are three reasons I think it is a good idea to start with herbs when gardening with kids:
Unlike when growing tomatoes, carrots, pumpkin, or cucumbers, when growing herbs, the leaves themselves are the part you use. If you start with baby plants (instead of seeds) you have success before you even plant it in the garden! Even before we ventured into a small garden plot, the kids and I set our fresh basil plant on the windowsill and watched, amazed, as it grew new leaves if we watered it from time to time. We could pull off leaves for pizza this week, and have more for next week. That gave us the confidence we needed to fill our planter box with garden soil, dig a little hole, and plant it. We added Mint, Sage, even woodsy Rosemary plant because they are all hearty and super easy to grow.
Once planted in good soil, the herbs only need sunlight, water, and an occasional sprinkling of fertilizer to grow happily. I can send the kids outside with a watering bucket and they love the job of dumping it in the garden. Because of our mild winter weather, my herbs last year after year, sometimes growing all the way through the colder weather. The plants easily grow up, stretch out, and offer piles of fragrant leaves for us to use in our kitchen. Ours get almost full sun, and seem thrilled about it. We make sure to water a little more in the hot weather, and luckily they are happy as can be.
My very favorite part of growing an herb garden with my kids has been teaching them about edible plants. I think there is such an important connection that we are missing when we only buy food from the grocery store. My little are starting to identify the herbs, and when I send them outside for mint to go with our watermelon they bring back the sweet-smelling leaves. Talking about our herb garden opens up conversations about cooking, different flavors and cultures. We like to cook together, and I use herbs in just about everything! Herbed lemonade (ha! super old post!) and peach-rosemary ice cream are two of our favorite herb-filled recipes.
One of the hardest parts of leaving this house is leaving our garden. The time and love that has gone into growing these plants feels like a little legacy that we planted right here in this yard. And, after such a successful and wonderful experience with this little herb garden, the kids and I are excited to jump into a little more advanced garden when we settle into our new home in Virginia. Each kiddo has already chosen out which type of vegetable and fruit they would like to grow.
I have come a long way from my charred cilantro plant. Tip toeing into gardening with a simple and useful herb garden has been the most wonderful experience for me and the kiddos. I love the simple joy that comes from gardening with my kids, and we look forward to continuing to learn and grow together.