Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Pacific Northwest
May, 2011
Regional Report

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Hollyhock dolls are really fun to make!

A Garden of Discovery

Gardens have always been places of discovery for me. The experiences that make me an avid gardener today come from my earliest memories in the garden: planting sweet peas with my mother, harvesting baby carrots with my grandfather, roaming my uncle's ranch in search of the largest pumpkin. As children, we chased butterflies, watched ladybugs, picked bouquets of flowers, and dug potatoes for dinner.

All children love to explore and to discover new things. With a little advance planning you can take your children or grandchildren on a treasure hunt in your own backyard to help them discover the wonders of nature. It's an easy way to introduce them to gardening, which may become a lifelong passion. Some of the plants with mysteries to uncover include snapdragons, lunaria, sweet peas, bleeding heart, bearded irises, false dragonhead, mimosa, impatiens, nasturtiums, and hollyhocks.

The flowers, leaves, or seedpods of these plants are just begging to be examined for their structure, taste, or fragrance. And, when you've finished exploring, you can make a daisy-chain necklace, a hollyhock doll, or a pizza with the aromatic herbs you've harvested.

What to Look For
Snapdragons, with their velvety soft flowers, are natural beauties. The blooms form two separate cupped clusters that meet in the middle, like jaws. If you pick a flower and gently squeeze the sides, the two clusters will separate and open like a mouth. The resulting space in the dragon's mouth is just the right size for a child's finger. Release the bloom and the jaws snap closed.

Lunaria is also called the money plant. The purple flowers develop into silvery, disc-shaped seedpods, about the size of a quarter. You can collect the seedpods to use as play money, make bracelets or necklace pendants, or use them to make decorative wind chimes. Silent as they may be, they're still pretty.

Sweet peas are delightfully fragrant and they cling to a trellis with tendrils. You can unwind a tendril and when you let go, it will snap right back to its former shape. Sweet peas make great cut flowers for picnic table bouquets.

Bearded irises stand tall with sword-shaped leaves and flowers perched on top, just like a flagpole. The beard running down the flower is fun to pet and some of the old-fashioned purple irises have the aroma of grape Kool-Aid.

The perennial known as false dragonhead grows stiff square stems and develops spikes of flowers at the tops of the stems. If you move the flowers to either side, they will stay bent in that position. This plant is also called the obedient plant - for good reason!

Impatiens walleriana, or busy Lizzy, develops lots of seedpods that pop open when they're ripe. If you place a plump, ripe seedpod in your hand and lightly press, the seeds will burst out. It can tickle your hand as it pops open.

Nasturtium flowers and their leaves are edible as long as you don't use pesticides in your garden. They give a peppery punch similar to watercress in salads and pasta dishes, and the flowers add a hint of color.

Hollyhocks are tall plants with sturdy stems. You can plant them close together in a wide circle so they'll grow up to become a fort or secret hiding place. And you can make hollyhock dolls out of the flowers. Just choose a flower and cut it off, bud and all, for the body and skirt, then choose one more bud that's just beginning to show color for the head. Using a toothpick, attach the skirt (turn the flower upside down so the flower petals look like a skirt) to the unopened bud (the head) with the colorful petals up to look like a hat or a turban. Use ferny leaves such as rosemary twigs for the arms. Paint eyes in the appropriate place with a thin marker and poof, you have a hollyhock doll.

Let your imagination be your guide and whatever exploring you do in your garden, your children are sure to enjoy!

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