Gardening: The secrets of tea gardens

Nancy Szerlag
Special to The Detroits News
Most members of the mint family keep their scent in the fine hairs that cover their leaves.

The three year rule about plants that are invasive –  the first year they sleep, the second year they creep and the third year they leap –  was written with  hardy mints in mind.

 Once established, they spread like crazy by underground  roots called rhizomes and can pop up many feet away from the mother plant. So if you wish to grow hardy mints in the ground, I would cut the bottom out of a 2 gallon black pot and sink it into the soil so the rim sticks up about 2 to 3 inches and plant your mint in it using potting soil. Plan on lifting this container every couple of years to make sure the mint roots don’t crawl out underneath.

As a fellow volunteer and I perused our little herb garden at the Rochester OPC,  we talked about how we love to grow herbs but rarely use them.  The exception of course is basil.  While sage if is prized for use in stuffing at Thanksgiving, the bunches of herbs tied with twine drying on a rack in my back hall serve more as decoration than flavor enhancers.  And because I no longer do a lot of cooking that’s not going to change.

But when the book "Growing Your Own Tea Garden: The Guide to Growing and Harvesting Flavorful Teas in Your Own Backyard,"  by Jodi Helmer (Companion House Books ) arrived in my mailbox, I was thrilled.  

This charming paper back is chock full of information on herbal teas made from many of the plants we grow in our gardens, including herbs. And many of these teas have medicinal qualities that can benefit us all. The best news is most teas can be made from fresh leaves and/or flowers, so brewing a cup is a snap. You harvest the fresh leaves or flowers, drop them in a cup of hot water, give them a few minutes to steep and sip away. What could be easier?

Helmer gives advice on how to dry and store tea for yearlong use, brewing tips and creative recipes along with growing tips. The chapter that intrigued me the most is Garden Designs. These themed gardens include plants that look good together and make good neighbors.  There’s a sleepy-time tea garden, a fatigue-fighting tea garden, a relaxing tea garden and a headache tea garden.

For those who like to party, there’s a hangover cure tea garden. Rock on!

Nancy Szerlag is a master gardener and Metro Detroit freelance writer. Her column appears Fridays in Homestyle. To ask her a question go to and click on Ask Nancy. You can also read her previous columns at