The last-minute scramble for teacher gifts is on. My daughter’s preschool crew is getting gift cards at this point, but for my son’s first grade teacher I want something a little more thoughtful — and representative of the kid she gracefully put up with all year. “Very social, enthusiastic and eager to share” was her kind way of describing his frequent interruptions. Elizabeth Leonard, a friend of mine who founded Earl’s Kitchen Gardens (she installs and maintains backyard vegetable gardens for families and schools across Long Island in New York), makes mini potted herb gardens all the time so I asked her to share some tips. So simple, so pretty, so doable! Here’s how:
What you’ll need: a pot, potting soil, starter herb plants, popsicle sticks and paper or burlap to wrap the pot with.
Step 1: Pick a pot. Elizabeth recommends a 12-inch terra cotta with holes in the bottom for drainage. This will hold three to four 4-inch starter plants. (You could certainly go for an 8- or 10-inch pot if you want a smaller arrangement.) You’ll find the best potting supplies and healthiest plants at your local mom and pop garden shops.
Step 2: Choose your plants. Going with common kitchen herbs (basil, dill, cilantro, parsley, chives, rosemary, etc.) is best because the recipient will actually use them. Elizabeth also loves mint—“if your child was particularly challenging the teacher can make mojitos or mint juleps all summer to recover!” (Noted.) And look for plants with a variety of color and height. Try purple or Thai basil instead of Italian (green). Know that dill and cilantro will grow tall while oregano acts more like ground cover and will trellis out of a container.
Step 3: Wet the potting soil. Before planting, dump the soil in a plastic bin or other large container and add water to it (you want the mixture to be about 50 percent soil to 30 percent water, otherwise your herb garden will be too dry to thrive and won’t last a week). Then fill the terra cotta pot about half way with soil, take the starter plants out of their containers and arrange them in the pot. Add more soil so the arrangement looks nice and is filled to about ¼ inch from the top of the pot.
Step 4: Label the herbs. Use a pencil (marker will fade) to write the names on wooden popsicle sticks.
Have your child do the labeling for an added DIY touch.
Step 5: Wrap the pot. Use burlap, homemade paper (have your son or daughter decorate!) and secure it with garden twice. Or simply tie raffia around the pot and tuck in a dried flower. Add a little tag or stick on a label that says "Let it grow," "water me" or "pinch me please." The last one is a little cheeky but it applies to the herbs—the more you pinch them back the more they grow.
We’ve given these potted herb gardens as special presents the past few years and they’re always a big hit. Of course they’re not right for everyone but I know my son’s teacher likes to cook and she knows how obsessed my son is with food and gardening so in this case, I think it’s perfect. Personal, functional and beautiful. What more can you ask for in a gift?