Sharing the Garden

Since my son was one, I have been telling him “you need to share!” This message seems flawed because most of us don’t really want to share. Since gaining a husband, a dog and having a child, I am now forced to share the garden with three other creatures. I have learned that tolerance and compromises are a must.

Creature #1 – My toddler Gus

Children can be very destructive, so I have made a few attempts to child proof the garden. I have dedicated a small section to Gus and his outdoor construction toys. This area has exposed soil for him to dig in and the only down side is having to frequently weed it as nature abhors bare ground. This spring, I am going to plant an ecolawn mixture and if it gets dug up, no big deal. I am not sure I will have the luxury of actually letting the ecolawn get established without anyone trampling it.


Planting herbs, edibles and flowers in tall raised beds has been successful in deterring toddler predation. This has generally worked, although there have been times when Gus has climbed into the beds with his metal backhoe and destroyed an entire winter cover crop. I have gotten more savvy and now recruit him to plant the cover crop seeds so he remembers there is something in there.

Another way to child proof is not to plant anything that is toxic or stings. I have a small patch of stinging nettles in the front yard and while they are not easily accessible, it is a valuable teaching opportunity for him to learn this plant so he can avoid it in the wild. We talk about nettles so he understands they will sting if he touches them.

My days of planting members of the Datura genus such as Angel’s trumpet and moon flower are basically on hold. While many of its members are toxic if ingested, most parts of these plants contain toxic hallucinogens, so if you happen to touch them and rub your eye, your pupils will dilate potentially resulting in a trip to the ER where your toddler looks like they just took a hit of LSD. Best to avoid this scenario.

Other common toxic plants include; hellebores, foxgloves, rue, bleeding heart, lily, iris, daphne, and deadly nightshade, a very common invasive garden weed. English ivy, which can be found in many gardens, is very toxic to cats and one seed from the castor bean plant can kill a dog if ingested. Giant hogweed looks very similar to the NW native cow parsnip. It grows as tall as 7 feet and can cause a nasty rash.

We take our kids berry picking and we harvest plants from our gardens, which sends the message that (all) plants are safe to eat. As a child gets older, it is helpful to explain they cannot pick any old berry and eat it unless they can correctly identify them or ask an adult.

Just when I thought my indoor plants were safe, last weekend Gus used his Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle sword  to hack a few of my houseplants. There is not much left of my Christmas cactus and it is safe to say it will not be blooming this December or ever again.

Creature #2 – Buddy Collie (the border collie)

Buddy Collie

Buddy Collie

Buddy Collie is a good guy and generally behaves himself in the garden for two reasons. One, there are raised beds so he cannot trample the herbs, edibles, and flowers. Two, I have left a 3-foot perimeter between my shrub and berry border and the fence line. A vet friend once told me dogs like to wander the perimeter of their yard. If there is a fence, that is where they will likely patrol to do their business. This has been true of all three of our dogs. Buddy still chases squirrels in the yard, but there is not much I can do about that. Herding is in his canine genes.

Creature #3 –  My husband

One year, my husband wanted to plant corn. He is from Iowa, so of course he wants to grow corn. I was not really on board because corn requires lots of water and the cooler nights of the NW are not conducive to its preferred grow conditions. We (I) agreed to take up precious raised bed space for TJ’s corn and while it did not taste very good, we ate it. The unexpected surprise was for me was how tall the corn grew and formed a natural wall physically separating our garden from the driveway. I thought this looked great. Also, Gus loved watching the corn grow and repeatedly referred to it as “daddy’s corn.” It was well worth the extra water that summer.

Ever once in a while, my husband comments about how “overgrown” the native plants in the front yard look and how he wishes they were more tame. Sorry, but no compromise there because they are native, wild and will remain as nature intended.

Wild native shrubs in front yard

Wild front yard

Favorite Children’s Garden Books

Gus loves to read books. Since it is summertime, we are reading books about gardening and the farmer’s market. I picked out A Gardener’s Alphabet, by Mary Azarian, which teaches the ABC’s by using a gardening related word for each letter in the alphabet. The drawings on the pages are colorful and charming.  Another fun book is Planting the Wild Garden, written by Kathryn O. Galbraith and illustrated by Wendy Anderson Halperin. The book is a story about a farmer and her son planting their garden and how nature “plants” the wild meadow garden they play in. It focuses on the role nature plays by blowing seeds in the wind, birds dispersing seeds, and how wildlife helps in planting nature’s garden.

One of our favorites is Planting a Rainbow, by Lois Ehlert. This book is about flowers growing and blooming in many different colors. This summer, many of the flowers in the book were growing in our garden.

One of my favorite Pacific Northwest authors, Nikki McClure, just came out with a book called To Market, To Market.  It is a story about a young boy and his mother shopping at their local farmer’s market. It details the items they buy such as kale, apples, smoked salmon, honey, and blueberry turnovers. The book shares each vendor’s story about growing and raising their products. It is a very sweet depiction of a farmer’s market experience accompanied by the author’s wonderful artistic style.

Chalk Board in the Garden

This spring, TJ remodeled a portion of the house that faces the garden. This small corner of our house needed to be re-sided following a construction project but, instead, TJ hung up some (modified) plywood and painted it with chalk board paint to create a fun play space in the garden.  He built a wood platform to stand on and cover the window well below for safety.

The chalk board is a great place to play when family and friends come to visit. I typically put a pacifier in Gus’ mouth so he doesn’t eat the chalk.

Pumpkin – It’s What’s for Dinner

Pumpkin – From the Garden to Table

Pumpkins have become one of my family’s favorite vegetables to grow in the garden. Not only are they fun to grow, but, they are a rich source of nutrients including unsaturated fat, antioxidants, and fiber. Pumpkin seeds are a natural source of protein and other vitamins and minerals, such as zinc.

This photo shows our sliced up pumpkin, drizzled with olive oil and roasted in the oven at 375 degrees for about 45 minutes. As for the abundance of seeds, I rinsed them off in a colander, tossed them in a bowl with olive oil, sea salt, garlic powder, and onion powder and scattered them on a cookie sheet and baked them in the oven for about 30 minutes. It looks almost too pretty to eat.

Of course, every fall there is pumpkin beer, but, making that is outside of my current skill set.

Fall & the Great Pumpkin Harvest

Gus’s first pumpkin

Fall is a bountiful time of year when lots of things are happening in the garden. Plants start to get ready for cooler weather, birds are gathering seeds, and the squirrels are very active looking for nuts to bury for winter. Fruits and vegetables such as apples, winter squash, kale, swiss chard, spinach, potatoes, and garlic are really to eat.

In September, the full moon is called the harvest moon. This special time of year signals the beginning of the fall equinox and the transition to colder days where plants begin to slow down. The energy of plants turns downward towards the roots as the aerial parts give up their seeds to wildlife and wither back to rest for winter.  The darkness of night comes sooner and we say good night to the sun just a little earlier each day.

One of our family’s favorite plants to grow are pumpkins. The photo shows 5-month old Gus with his first pumpkin from the garden. Pumpkins are fun and easy to grow, just give them plenty of room to spread. In the Northwest, you can harvest pumpkins in October, just in time for Halloween.


In spring of 2011, TJ got some giant pumpkin seeds from a friend along with an entertaining video called Lords of the Gourd  After watching the video, we were intrigued and ready to start growing giant pumpkins.

A few weeks after planting the seeds they were tall enough to transfer to the garden. They grew, and grew, and grew and by October we had three huge pumpkins. The heaviest one weighed 75 pounds! The others weighed around 60 pounds. TJ was able to carry them onto our front porch for Halloween.

IMGP0556Photo of Gus posing with one of his giant pumpkins in Fall of 2013 

Just like any flower or vegetable, giant pumpkins require fertilizer. Unlike other vegetables, they need lots of room to spread out. I plant mine in one of the raised beds and allow them to creep out and ramble through the garden. They are like some kind of crazy prostrate Jack and the Beanstalk plant. When guests come to visit, Gus always asks them if they would like to see our giant pumpkins. It is very fun for children to watch them grow. In the spring, we share seed starts with our gardening friends and many of them are now hooked too.

The Garden: A Cure for “Witching Hour”

This is a photo of 3-month old Gus – a.k.a. the wild man. It is a chilly September day and he looks like a grumpy old man in his wearing flannel.  While this young man is typically quite pleasant, around 6 pm every evening he often experiences what parents refer to as “the witching hour” where their children melt down. Perhaps the witching hour is precipitated by over stimulation during the course of a day. Who the hell knows. That is when mommy or daddy take Gus outside to sit under the trees to watch the leaves shake or walk around the garden to take in the sight, smells and fresh air. At our house, the cure for a grumpy baby is to get him outside.

Herbs for Children

Herb Bath

Baby Gus Preparing for His Herb Bath

There is a special section of the garden where I am growing herbs for the baby.  These herbs include; calendula, chamomile, comfrey, mint, catnip, lemon verbena, roses, rosemary, and lavender. Not only are these herbs are easy to grow, but the pollinators love them and they can be added to drinks when a sleepy mama needs a cocktail.

Below is what I typically do with these herbs:

* calendula & chamomile for making herbal oils that can be used for massage oil or mix with beeswax to create an herbal salve

* comfrey is great for making oils to make a salve to cure the dreaded diaper rash

* mint & lemon verbena are refreshing to add to the baby’s bath

* catnip is for making a warm bath to soak the baby in to calm them and/or bring down a fever

* rosemary is a special herb to add to baths. The Mayans use this herb to clear “bad” energy

* lavender is for infusing in either olive, almond, or apricot oil to make a massage oil, which helps calm and relax the baby

Herbs I make herbal sun tea out of and add to drinks include: lemon verbena, lavender, mint and rosemary.

Lemon verbena harvested from the garden

Lemon verbena harvested from the garden

Baby’s First Time in the Garden

Gus was just a few weeks old when we went into the backyard and he saw our garden for the first time. It was June 2010, the sun was shining and it was a completely new world for a baby. I put Gus in his bouncy seat while I gathered flowers, herbs, and vegetables. I showed Gus different plants and let him smell and touch them while repeating the plant’s name with the hope that someday he might embrace the plant world.

The garden is a place where our family spends time planting, nurturing, watering, harvesting, and relaxing. Gardening teaches us about life cycles and the wonder of planting a tiny seed and watching it grow into something colorful to put in a vase, make a healing remedy, or for use as an ingredient in a homemade meal.

My love affair with plants began when I was a young girl growing up in Maryland. Every summer, my father and I would plant flowers,  tomatoes and peppers. My mother would take me to the library where I checked out gardening and plant related books. I would go for walks in the pastures and woods behind my house and gather plants to bring home and identify. I spent much of my free time  exploring the natural world around me. 

Some of my earliest garden memories began when visiting my grandparents in their row house in Baltimore City. With just a tiny backyard, my grandfather managed to grow tomatoes, peppers, squash, beans and beautiful roses. My grandmother used to make the most incredible tomato ketchup relish from the fresh tomatoes they grew.  She and my grandfather would spend all day in the kitchen bottling up the ketchup, which became a stable condiment in our house for decades.

As Gus calmly sat in his bouncy seat in the shade, I thought about how much fun it would be to teach him about gardening and nature. I look forward to sharing our family’s love of the plant world and the outdoors. We have already nicknamed him, “the wild man.”