Playing With Plants

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Fairy Houses & Face Cream

This weekend, I put on a fairy house birthday party for a five year old. I’ve run a fairy house building program at the local library for years, but this was the first time I’ve imported the experience and I was not at all sure how it would go. As it happened, the result was remarkable. At the library, the kids are a little older (6-9 years old) and the action takes place in our very public gardens. Because of that ‘public’ part, I always begin by setting up some ground rules about beer bottles, broken glass, dog poop, and used needles (sad realities). For a group of around 30 kids, we’ll have half a dozen teens and adults on tap to make sure everyone stays out of the parking lot and any unsafe materials lurking under the bushes are properly handled.

In this case, the very tidy, kidcentric yard is patrolled daily and no warnings were needed. The yard borders on woods and offers many choice locations for fairy houses, notably lots of mossy rocks and stumps. I stuffed my tiny Smart car with bags of infrastructure: twigs and bark, pebbles and shells, feathers and bird nests, and masses of moss. I packed bags with foliage, from feathery cedar and silvery santolina to velvety purple sage and woolly lamb’s ears. Huge, glossy bergenia and hydrangea leaves make splendid roofs or boats, while cinnamon colored Carex Cappucino makes marvelous thatch and the spangled seed bearing stems of pheasant tail grass make fluffy beds or magical looking clouds. Flowers were relatively scarce, but there were plenty of hydrangeas, some Russian sage, and a few handfuls of late roses to brighten the mix, and seed pods in all shapes and sizes.

Let ‘Em Rip

The library programs start with a gathering and a conversation, but birthday parties are far less organized. Families wander in with younger and older siblings in tow, friends dash off together to play, and there’s no gathering to be had. I was fascinated and very happy to observe that the kids needed no guidance at all to get playful and creative with this great array of materials. I usually include only natural stuff, but the threat of rain made me develop a backup plan. Because we might need to move indoors, I brought some colorful bendy straws and modeling clay to anchor them if need be. These were immediately turned into anything and everything by boys and girls alike, though the paper umbrellas (the kind used in girly drinks) were perhaps the most popular item.

It was heartening to watch these kids at play, older ones eagerly helping the youngsters if they got frustrated. The garden goodies were laid out in discrete piles on the deck, so the kids could stroll along, selecting a globe thistle (prickly leaves removed) or a fluffy plume of Miscanthus to add that special note to their construction. I laid out the more solid building materials at one end and the decorative stuff at the other, making about 20 feet of smorgasbord. This free play activity kept them very happily occupied, without squabbling or tears, for about an hour and a half, which seemed like a minor miracle to some parents. After the kids left, clean up consisted up sweeping the deck and carrying it to the compost heap, perhaps the easiest party aftermath ever.

Adults At Play

Watching all this, I wished I had thought to bring along some dried herbs for the adults to play with as well. Some of my most successful adult programs involved making savory or sweet herbal blends for cooking or tea, as well as herbal bath salts and pot pourri. Cooking and crafting appeal to pretty much everyone on some level, and it’s easy to add the element of free play that’s so often missing from adult activities. Though summer is speeding away, this is a great time to weave small kitchen wreaths from rosemary, sage, thyme and oregano, decorating with dried chilies and garlic. Simple wire wreath frames in various sizes are available at many nurseries, or you can make your own with grape vine prunings or willow wands.

If you grow lots of herbs, you can easily create fragrant pot pourris, bug-repelling sachets, and soothing bath salts for gifting and home use. For closet sachets, add some citrus zest and cloves to lavender sachets to discourage moths. Fill small muslin bags with rosemary or lavender to tumble with drying clothing, or stuff them with rose petals and fragrant herbs to toss into a steaming tub. Gently warm grapeseed or avocado oil with rose petals or lavender, then strain to make your own fragrant massage oil. For a calming bedside pot pourri, blend rose petals, lavender, and chamomile and stir to release the fragrance at bedtime. Make herbal bath salts by combining equal amounts of coarse sea salt and Epsom salts with a few tablespoons of lavender, rosemary, or lemon balm. Be sure to sew bath salt bags shut to prevent clogged drains…

Herbal Skin Cream

Pure, virgin coconut oil makes the base for this silky cream, which can be used on the face and body. Like any cream, it melts at body temperature, so apply around eyes only at night before bedtime.

Rose & Honey Face Cream

2 cups virgin, unfiltered coconut oil
1/4 cup avocado oil
2 tablespoons local honey
1 tablespoon fresh organic rose petals

Combine in a glass bowl set over a pan of simmering water until honey dissolves (5-6 minutes), stir well and let stand for 20 minutes. Pour through a fine-mesh tea strainer into glass jars and seal tightly. Cream will turn opaque and firm as it cools. Keeps for up to 3 months if stored out of direct light.

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3 Responses to Playing With Plants

  1. Deirdre says:

    Fab ideas. My mother used to encourage us to make fairy gardens in old pie plates when we were little, which kept us amused for ages!

  2. Loryn paxton says:

    We’re just installing some bare root D. Austin roses and I recall a prescription for soil that included alfalfa meal, epsom salts, and rotted manure (I think, if memory serves).

    Anne, can you tell me the ratio of the above? I cannot seem to find the original recipe.

    …and very very best to you and your daughter!

    • Ann Lovejoy says:

      Hi Loryn
      Unfortunately a (very) recent computer mishap resulted in the loss of my entire backlog of blog posts. Distraction, it’s amazing! Anyway, I don’t think exact amounts matter that much but ingredients do; I never use epsom salts in the garden, but I do use compost, aged manure and alfalfa meal generously. For roses, I layer on a blanket of compost and aged manure, heaped generously at the drip line and scantily around the crown of each plant. That gets topped with about a quart of alfalf meal per plant, spread mostly around the dripline (that’s where most of the feeder roots are located).

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