I Gave My Daughter Dirt for her Birthday. Her Friends Gave her a Garden.


I bought my daughter dirt for her birthday. It sounds sort of Dickensian, I know. Like an Oliver Twist Tiny Tim mash-up, my poor, newly-minted six-year-old begging for nothing more than her own dirt.

To be specific, the dirt was $81 worth of lobster compost and organic peat. Also, untold money spent on clay pots and other gardening supplies. And no, I’m not a farmer. Or a gardener. I can’t even keep poinsettias alive from Christmas to New Year’s Eve. I’m pretty sure that among all things green, I’m known as The Plant Killer.

But my daughter has been asking for a garden for over a year now. Membership to our local organic farm CSA has only whet her appetite (so to speak) for a garden of her own.

So when it came to her sixth birthday party and conversations about possible themes, no amount of “How about we do Finding Dory? I'll take you to the movie!” could dissuade her. And what kind of mom would I be, really, to deny my daughter a garden?

I sat down at my computer seven days before my daughter’s scheduled birthday party and googled “garden party.” Then I chugged a full glass of wine. Because there are a whole bunch of professional party planners/photographers/bloggers out there posing as normal, wine-slugging mamas. And they plan parties straight out of Mommy Dearest, replete with mesh tents hanging from trees, paper lanterns, PVC-pipe-flowered-arches and labeled buckets for fairy dust. Seriously. Pour yourself a fish bowl of wine and see for yourself.

I even tried a few ideas out on my daughter. “We could buy wooden bird houses and sparkles and aquarium rocks and fake moss and everyone can make fairy gardens!”

The look of distaste on her face said it all. She wanted a garden garden, not a photogenic fairy garden with tea cups and finger sandwiches.

And so we bought that dirt. We picked up two wooden palettes by the side of the road and schlepped them home. We picked up all manner of random seeds that I know nothing about from that farm CSA, and we also went to Home Depot and got a few cheater plants, because honestly, I don’t for one minute believe that you can plant a seed in the ground (even $81 worth of organic lobster compost ground) and then grow a basket of tomatoes a few months later. I grew up in 1970’s suburbia and I’m here to tell you, no way.

The day before the party we headed to Michaels Arts and Crafts for popsicle sticks, little wooden birds, paint markers and bubble wands just in case. We also found a silicone flower mold so that I could whip up fancy cupcakes late night over another glass of wine. (And yes, parties always drive me to drink.) Because party crafts and cute cakes I can manage. I’m a mom of four, a teacher, I have an MFA. I can crush a cute craft party.

But party gardens? I have no idea.

When the little girls showed up in their comfy clothes with kid shovels and gifts, they immediately got to work decorating clay pots and wooden birds. Then they shoveled dirt, planted marigolds, ate the most chocolate-tastic cupcakes ever (Pin that, my friends. Pin that.)




With a half hour left I pointed to the wooden palettes with the weed netting stapled around the edges, the $81 worth of dirt, the packets of unlikely seeds all laying twenty feet away from the festivities, forgotten. And you will never guess what that posse of girlfriends, both the grown-up mamas and kindergartners, did.

They shoveled compost, patted dirt, planned which things creep and which grow tall. They bent their heads together, passed each other shovels or tags, cups of dirt, small planters of seedlings. They gently placed seeds, watered carefully, labeled the treasures.




Time will tell if we actually get cucumbers or (heaven forbid, how could we possibly?!) watermelons. But my daughter walked into the house this morning, less than 24 hours after her party, eating mint leaves and lettuce she’d pulled from one of those Home Depot plants. She was carting her new watering can with mud on her muck boots, and she was resplendent in her farm gear, joy-filled and self-satisfied. My daughter is now a real, honest-to-goodness gardener.

I bought my daughter dirt for her birthday, and her community of friends, with love in their hearts and dirt on their hands, gave us the best gift ever. They built my daughter a garden.





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Author: Jen Groeber

Jennifer Groeber is a mother of four, artist, writer, and blogger. You can read about her escapades parenting, reliving her childhood and obsessing over Bruce Springsteen at jen groeber:mama art

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