Parsley Sage, Rosemary, and Time, by Jane Louise Curry (Atheneum, 1975, younger middle grade)
Ten year old Rosemary is distressed when her father and mother's business trip to China results in her being packed off to her Aunt Sibby in Maine. Unlike her somewhat staid parents, Aunt Sibby, a writer of detective stories, leads a somewhat Bohemian life. And her aunt's first words to her aren't such as would warm a dutiful daughter's heart: "Red hair! Aren't you lucky! You're not like your father at all. I was half-expecting a cod-faced little priss." (page 3)
Aunt Sibby's old and overgrown house, with its old cat, Parsley Sage (able to dance on his hind legs, despite his age, when Aunt Sibby flicks her fingers) awakens in Rosemary for the first time thoughts of magic. And then Parsley Sage leads Rosemary to an abandoned herb garden, where she finds that magic is real. In the garden grows a plant labeled "Time" (not thyme, as one might expect), and indeed, the Time plant is well named. When she fingers a sprig from it, time freezes. When she visits it second again, it transports her back to the early 18th century.
Rosemary, still skeptical of magic though she is, can't deny the evidence of all her senses. She is truly in the past. There she meets another time traveller, a little girl nicknamed Baba...and both are taken in by Goody Cakebread, who already has come upon a toddler named Wim. Goody Cakebread is not as consternated as one might expect by this influx of time-travellers--she seems to have had prior experience, and assumes that they'll go away again eventually. Which the children hope will happen too!
Unfortunately, Goody Cakebread lives in land much desired by the fire and brimstone preaching minister of the town...and the appearance of a gaggle of strange children (clearly imps of Satan) makes a nice addition to his accusations that she is a witch. Rosemary is suspicious, herself--after all, Goody Cakebread's wooden cupboard does seem to have strange powers....
Fortunately for Goody Cakebread, she is friends with the Sokokis, the neighboring Abenaki people, and she and the children plan to escape to them (with the hope that their knowledge of magic can help return the children to their own time, as they don't seem to be leaving on their own!). But before that happens, the townsfolk arrive.
All works out well in the end (mainly thanks to the cleverness of Carolanna, the minister's slave), and the story of how the Time plant came to Maine is woven into the conclusion. Baba and baby Wim and Rosemary all meet again in the present...and Rosemary already begins planning her next visit to her aunt's house.
My main thought upon reading this how short children's books were back in the 1970s! The whole story is told in only 107 pages! Part of me admires the economy of story telling. Jane Louise Curry manages to pack a lot in about early 18th-century Maine, touching on the fact slavery in New England, the persistence of Native peoples in their ancestral lands, and the dangers of being an older woman living alone in a society that still believed in witches. But part of me wishes there had been a hundred more pages--the time spent in the past flies by, and I wish we had had a bit more time to really get to know the characters and the place they found. It seemed rushed. (I also wish the Sokokis had not been quite so clearly presented as Magical Others, but this wasn't so pronounced as to turn me against the whole book).
By far my favorite part was Rosemary's discovery of the herb garden, and the first magical, beautifully eye-widening, depiction of the Time plant's power. It's the sort of thing that I can easily imagine knocking the socks of a young reader of eight or nine--a lovely introduction to the genre of magic intruding into real life. And, since overgrown gardens of magic are one of my favorite things to read about in general, I'm awfully glad to have found this one to revisit in my mind as I work on my own weeds!