One of my favorite springtime rituals is inviting the neighborhood children to plant their own “gardens” in the big pots that adorn the gate to my patio and flower garden. This year I had a team of three — two four-year-olds and a two-and-a-half-year-old. A younger brother, about 18 months, didn’t help plant but got his own small pot of mint with a ceramic frog.
The boys planted an herb garden (complete with a pick-up truck and tractor) while the 4-year-old girl and I planted a fairy garden in pinks and purples, her favorite colors. There are, as might be surmised, fairies hiding under protection of blooms and leaves. Sometimes during the summer the fairies make random appearances to leave small gifts –snack-sized baggies of popcorn, a shiny nickel, a bottle of bubbles.
I do this partly because I love cultivating the gardening urge in young people (my youngest nephew and his girlfriend just planted their first veggie garden, 300 square feet at her parents’ house) and partly because I’m paying forward one of my favorite activities as a small child.
We lived in Salt Lake City on a street with no fences. Hedges and woodland plants separated our back yard neighbor, a woman who I remember as Dahlia (even though I don’t think that was her name, I associate her with one of the flowers she grew, as large as dinner plates). I remember her as a gentle older woman (probably 50 by then!) who had a massive flower garden that she cultivated nine months of the year in a floppy hat and a ubiquitous apron.
When school was out in June, she invited all the neighbor children to her back yard for a garden party. She served little sandwiches with the crusts cut off and hot tea with sugar cubes and milk. We sat at small tables amidst the lilacs and iris and roses.
Before and after, we had garden tours to learn the names of things. Dahlia taught us the marvelous habits of bees and admonished us never to catch butterflies in Mason jars. Somehow–I think we did this intuitively–she validated my sense of the fairies that lived in her yard and that I could sometimes see and feel in the growth between us.
My small neighbors and I had a fun, messy, chaotic and ultimately beautiful time making herb gardens and fairy gardens. Each four-year-old has her/his own small watering can with instructions to water their own garden whenever they think it needs it — and to be on the alert for gifts from the fairies.
Here’s to summer!
Your turn! How does your garden grow? Did you garden as a child? Did you teach your children to garden?