Oh, summer. In theory, I love the idea of meandering, lazy days. But as a stay-at-home mom with two young children, those days can get mighty long. We don’t do camps or have regular babysitters. We don’t live in a neighborhood where we can send out the kids and say, ‘be back by dinner time.’ Our kids don’t even watch a blink of tv. What’s a mom to do? Last summer, I outlined a general summer survival plan of craft ideas, places to go and things to do to keep our days relatively sane. The list very well could have been written by Laura Ingalls Wilder. It was chock-full of settler-like activities: canning, sewing, berry-picking and cleaning. (Don’t pity my kids; we also took many swims, hikes, picnics and general frolics.) Somewhere on the list between sewing napkins and scrubbing the floor (no joke – my five-year-old squealed when I gave him his own brush): making a garden book. And so it came to be. About once a week or so, we’d get inspired by something rambling about our garden, be it cucumbers steadily climbing their trellis or sunflowers becoming walls of their house.* Some days, I would offer an idea to guide my then four-year-old. Other days, he initiated a plan. On squares of lovely, heavy watercolor paper, my son mod-podged tissue paper sunflowers. He cut cucumbers from construction paper. He carefully hand-sewed bright red tomatoes and hand-cranked his sewing machine to create flowers. He drew colorful caterpillars. At the end of the summer, we punched holes and tied yarn to make a binding. And there it was: our summer in the garden.
A disclaimer, so that no one will have overly romanticized visions of our garden: we have a suburbanized yard with a few raised beds in the front yard. Idyllic pasture it is not. But we shaped it and we tend it; it is one way we connect to our earth and I am grateful to have this humble plot. In a time when front yard suburban gardens may seem as popular as minivans, one might assume that everyone can have a garden. A dreamy thought, but that’s not the case. And so we must remember the duality of the garden book: the garden book needn’t be a garden book. It could be a neighborhood park book. Or a front yard book. Even a terrarium book.
My garden book was a dogwood tree book. Way back in elementary school, I was assigned a project to sketch the same branch of a dogwood tree every day in early spring. I had been around the earth a few times; of course I wasn’t surprised when it bloomed. But I was filled with wonder as blossoms appeared. It was a magic trick. A stunning game of peek-a-boo. Like stars appearing at twilight. And still I marvel at a bud — that dried-leaf, almost skeletal ball — becoming flower.
I envision the garden book as a summer tradition, my children eventually spearheading the design of their own books. Maybe they’ll write stories and poems. Maybe they’ll measure rainfall and map garden beds. Regardless, the garden book will help them observe their world. First we must notice the details; then we may become poets and artists, scientists and engineers. As my children become aware of the wondrous details surrounding their daily lives, I hope I may fully take time to watch them, to fully witness their unfolding. Because we all know how quickly children too will blossom.
*Have you ever built a sunflower house? If not, please do. Simply clear a ribbon of earth about four inches wide in the shape of a circle. Any diameter will do as long as there’s room for your child to hop about within the circle. Plant sunflower seeds in the cleared earth (live a little – try several varieties!), leaving an opening for the door. Then, within the perimeter, lay cardboard and top with mulch. A few stepping stones leading through the door add magic. Furnish with a stump, a tea set, or even a small rocking chair. As the walls grow, your child will have a magical nest in which to play.
Susannah Wood gardens with her two children and six chickens in Charlottesville, Virginia. She has a small shop where she sells her handmade toys and patterns.
Rhythm of the Home is an online magazine for families that focuses on creating with children, nature explorations, seasonal celebrations, conscious parenting, and mindfulness in all that we do.