July brings the hot weather, above 20 degrees Celsius and close to 30. July is all about watering gardens and going on as many bee safaris as possible. It's about how many iced teas I can consume without overdosing on caffeine. My morning ritual now includes making a smoothie from berries picked in the back yard: white strawberries, black raspberries and red raspberries. Any other berries leftover from snacking go into the blender with coconut water and yogurt. I brew tea to go in the refrigerator. I pack iced tea made the day before, sunscreen, gardening gloves, clippers, scissors, extra deodorant, and a change of clothes into my bag. I'm teaching at summer camps this month and chances are we're going to get sweaty and mucky working in the garden. That's what summer camps are all about!
I lugged the hose out of the basement and brought it up to water the herb garden. Before turning on the sprinkler I watched a female house finch eating aphids off these artichoke plants. You go girl!
The theme of this week's camp is "Together", so I am focussing on the act of collecting. We will collect and draw weeds and herbs. I explain the definition of a collection: things gathered together to study, admire, and display. Although, I explained my favourite thing to collect is friends (awww!) and they can't be displayed. But I do collect photographs of my friends and family, and I collect photographs of bees. You can map my life by the things I have collected. Apparently I started out as a toddler gathering tiny black pebbles. I went on to collect all kinds of rocks and fossils for years, then stickers, then vintage clothing and now I collect vintage honey pots, books, and photographs. I bring some of my books so the kids can research the plants we collect. Before we head into the garden, I go over the garden etiquette and bee safety.
A performance art named Caroline Wright did a piece in which 100 people with hairdressing scissors cut a checkerboard pattern out of the great lawn at Ham House I want the children to mimic this by creating their own tic tac toe board in the grass and examine the plants that get cut. We find clover, dandelions and small plantain leaves, stems in buds. The heat is so oppressive, we have to cut it short and draw plants inside the community center. (Next time, we'll do this activity in the shade.) I take small groups into the garden to do a tour and take cuttings for their collection. We take cuttings of lavender, catnip, California lilac, wooly lamb's ear, chamomile and sage. The key is to teach how you can collect something and be respectful of leaving enough for the others to collect, for the plant to photosynthesize and for the plant to support insect life. Taking a small group helps me to keep them focused.
There are wooly carder bees defending the stachys, honey bees in the nepeta, bumble bees in the nodding onions, and tiny sweat bees in the California lilac, and today the yellow jackets are very noticeable as they patrol the yarrow for prey. The kids are thrilled to spot insects on the plants. A camp leader finds a very colourful beetle in her hair. I hope the campers spend the rest of the week visiting the garden to look for bees.
We set up a hydration station with jugs of water with fresh mint and lemon, (a la Lori Snyder). The kids use washi tape to stick the flowers and herbs to their paper where they write the names of the plants. Some find the time to draw the plants, but two hours passes quickly.
Could you water the kids at the same time you water the garden?" Lorrie Wager asks. Great minds think alike! As a finale to my workshop I turn on the sprinkler and invite the kids to go for it. We have a blast. Suddenly I don't feel like I'm forty seven years old any more-- I'm just another kid at summer camp.
Text and photos by Lori Weidenhammer