Oh my goodness, I don’t know where to begin. So many different thoughts are converging!
I have the grand opportunity to review new books through a company called Net Galley. I have been introduced to some lovely books through this program. For the last week I’ve been sitting in the sand and sun on the Florida coast, catching up on my reading.
My family and friends know that I have been dreaming about gardening for years. We bought this Oklahoma acreage in the fall of 2016 with ‘sucking the most out of life’ in mind. I got started in earnest in the spring/summer of 2018 by putting in a vegetable garden. I currently work 40 hours a week at my real job and I still have one kid at home, so gardening is truly just a hobby. My goal is to add a little more to my gardening efforts each year. For 2019, my plans include a specific emphasis on adding an herb garden. However, I just read Growing Your Own Tea Garden by Jodi Helmer, and I am now determined to add tea to the mix!
Now hear me out … growing a tea garden really isn’t that big of a stretch. Most of the pages in Helmer’s book are devoted to leaves, flowers, fruits, and roots – most of which are already going to be part of my herb garden or flower plans. Anise Hyssop, Bee Balm, Catnip, Cilantro, Rosemary, Sage, Chamomile, Strawberry, and Ginger are all included. There’s even the long-lost Maypop that I wrote about earlier. Plus many more. For each of these pages, Helmer provides basic information about the plant, including the ideal zones for growing. Most of this information I have already considered as I have been planning my herb garden. Still, I find it helpful. What I really like is that each page also features a highlight area marked “for the best brew” that details how to add this ingredient to your tea.
Ultimately, when you think about it – I really only need to add tea plants to my garden. All types of true tea come from Camellia sinensis, which is an evergreen shrub plant. True tea refers to white, green, black, and oolong. Beverages made from anything else (such as chamomile or peppermint) are considered tisanes, not teas. China is still the dominate producer of tea worldwide. However, just as with so many other things, a local tea movement is growing – ever so slowly – in the United States. Helmer notes that The Charleston Tea Plantation has been growing tea since 1987, and was the sole commercial tea grower in the nation for a long time. I actually knew this little piece of US trivia. In the summer of 1988, I was home from college and working an internship at an advertising agency in Charleston. At the time, the agency – Wermuth/Reed – was designing the logos and packaging for The Charleston Tea Plantation.
On to planting my own Camellia sinensis … Helmer says that it takes 20,000 plants to produce 5000 pounds of tea. Perhaps I should simply aim for one pound of tea and start with four plants! Keep in mind that it takes at least three years for a Camellia sinensis plant to mature before you can feasibly harvest leaves. I’ve decided that purchasing plants instead of seeds is the better option. Helmer has several resources listed in her book. I think I’ve decided to try Camellia Forest Nursery out of homage to my Southern roots. I’m considering “Mountain Nepal” – which are seedlings from the high-altitude regions of Nepal, “Sochi” – which are seedlings from plants developed at Russian Tea plantations, and “China” – which tends to bloom heavily at a young age. I’m not quite sure if mixing varieties is recommended. I have an email into the company to see what they advise.
So, why tea? Oh, lots of reasons. First, and this is just my personal opinion, a Britton enjoys a cup (or two or three) of tea every day. It is a common occurrence. For an American, not as much. For me, the act of brewing a cup of tea signifies a reason to slow down. Perhaps I am brewing a cup for a child who has a sore throat, an upset tummy or a sad disposition. Perhaps I need a cup myself, to contemplate the morning ahead, the long day now complete, or a big decision on the horizon. Perhaps I am settling down with a dear friend to catch-up on life. My friend, Janet, epitomizes this setting. Because of her example, brewing a cup tea is an act that harks the beginning of quality time for me.
Next, giving birth to daughter got me excited about tea parties. About the same time as Delaney’s birth, my mother starting collecting what I call “tea trays.” Thanks to her, I now own an abundance. Throughout the years, Delaney’s birthday parties have often had a tea party component. Somewhere along the way, my mother also started collecting linens. I now own a wide variety of tablecloths and napkins that suit a variety of seasons. I’m prepared to host a tea party for just about any occasion! And why not? I’m convinced that tea parties bring out the best in everyone. Even second grade girls know to wear their prettiest dresses and bring their best manners!
And again, tea parties connote quality time. They exude that by stretching food over various courses – sandwiches, scones, and sweets. Perhaps even the addition of soups and salads. Delaney and I once hosted a Lavender Tea Party while living in Seattle. We had visited the Sequim Lavender Festival over the summer, and then hosted a tea party featuring lavender in every way possible. I love my memories of that special day with dear friends. Fast forward to my time in Tucson, and recognize that my friendship with dear Jane was solidified over high tea taken at a local tea house. The slow pace of taking tea allowed us to explore our similar upbringings, values, and hopes for our marriages and our children. Many years later, tea still holds a special place in our friendship. After I moved to Oklahoma, we found that our best opportunity to have tea together would be to meet in England (with our daughters) while on summer vacations with our families! (Our husbands enjoyed fish & chips at the pub down the street.)
Finally – tea is the perfect place to use honey! If I am going to have bees and produce my own honey, it only seems logical that I would also grow my own tea. If I coordinate everything perfectly, I should have tea and honey at the same time! And of course, I will have lots of herbs and flowers to complement the concoction!
It’s interesting to me that reading a book can bring back such wonderful memories and illicit such simple enhancements to my plans. I am returning to Oklahoma today well rested, excited to see my daughter, and anxious for spring to arrive. Before you know it, I will be inviting you over for a cup of tea. I can’t wait!