Wednesday, May 28, 2008

In praise of church ladies

A culinary and horticultural odyssey has been under way in our back yard for the bulk of the spring. What started as a collection of thrown seeds -- and a makeshift green house cobbled together from an overturned soccer goal and a roll of leftover hardware plastic -- has turned into an herb garden that would make a Frenchman envious.

The 5-year-old (and thrower of the seeds) has been tending to her plants, which, in our rainfall bounty, form a lush collection of chervil, dill, sorrel, flat-leaf parsley, basil, thyme, cilantro (above right), a few zinnias and one bean plant she popped into a cup during Plant Week at preschool. It's now stretching four feet and in need of a larger support trelllis.

A few Sundays back, I lamented to one of my church ladies that we didn't know what to do with some of the seeds the little gardener had chosen to sow. I was all too familiar with the 15-year-old settings of rosemary, oregano, sage and other perennials up on the larger garden slope; the new stuff? Clueless.

Into our life comes a super cool book that, sadly, is out of print but was languishing in a lady's house and in need of a good home. That sorrel and borage that had been confounding me? In there. Same with ways to make all-natural potpourri, sachets, vinegars, herbal teas. Now that our cilantro is starting to go to seed (a process that's fascinating to watch a young person observe), we'll know what to do with the seeds that come from those flowers -- they'll turn into the herb we call coriander.

The basil isn't as robust as we'd hoped, but it's there. The dill, in her words, "Is growing like crazy." She's already forming her list for next year, and the herb book is rarely far from her.