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Living in a small neighborhood always had its strong points. The perfect place for two little boys to romp through with their trusty sidekick, who was a large and mildly goofy dog.

Neighbors would wave, and inside our small community, we created a place of peace for our children no matter what was going on in the world.

Since I was a little girl, I had always loved growing things, but my green thumb was a dull gray at best until I became a mother. Then, something about raising children made me realize that things will grow at their own pace and bloom in their own time.

The First Box


When my mother-in-law moved into our condos, it was only months after her husband passed away. She had a yard in her old house for the last 16 years and loved caring for it, but we wanted her close by since she was now alone.

On our first Mother’s day, we splurged. Shopping for flowers was a blast, and we came home with more than we knew what to do with. We had pots of flowers lining her porch. We played musical chairs with all the pots to find their inhabitant’s happy place, and eventually, it looked more like a garden center than a porch.


Then the first box appeared. My husband’s job got in a machine part in a large wooden box around 5 feet long and 4 feet high. We painted to match the fence, and there it sat… the first box garden. Rocks and soil-filled the box shortly after, and when the heavy lifting was done, they gave me a garden shovel, scissors, and our flowers and let me go crazy. Suddenly I was thinking of how things grew, how they spread, and what came next.


My green thumb bloomed, and with every flower that grew, so did my confidence. I had always found peace gardening, even just trimming the dead leaves off a small indoor plant, but this was different; this was peace and pride added together to make my passion for planting flourish.

The “first box” gets filled with seeds from the prior years’ flowers and filled in with a few new favorites picked up when we continue our yearly Mother’s Day Flower Fest tradition every year.


The Favored Box


Our Mother’s day trip usually included searching for beautiful plants for each side of my front door. In zone 6A, you were hard-pressed to find a plant that would come up every year, especially in containers, and having no idea what planting zone you were in or the difference between a perennial and an annual did not help.


Soon after, two medium-sized box gardens sat on each side of our doorway, a DIY project that held a rod-iron arch trellis far enough in the air to almost reach the roof of our building. Clematis vines were the first perennials I had purchased for the outdoors. Still, three years later, I worry when it starts to get cold, and the ground begins to freeze that maybe this is the year they don’t return, yet they prove me wrong every year.


I got good at taking tiny seeds and turning them into beautiful flowers, which I don’t know about you, but I feel it is just pure magic in itself! The knowledge and research came later. After a run with a beautiful tropical hibiscus that never returned after a cold Ohio winter, I started researching and planning for the long term.

The Weed Box


A larger garden box now sits on the furthest side of our home. A box built for weeds… weeds with a purpose, BUT weeds all the same. Planted four o’clock flowers continue to rise from the soil every year, and surrounding them are chickweed and milkweed. Invasive in our part of the world, I always hated picking them out of my boxes because I knew they had a purpose no matter how invasive they were, but crowd control was almost impossible in the small boxes that held my beloved mother’s day gifts.


The Gladiolus had somehow duplicated themselves into oblivion in the first box, so some also resided in the weed box, but they bloom much later in the year when most of the flowers start to rest. The point of the weed box was to create a butterfly garden. Milkweed, flowers galore, and a safe place for caterpillars to hide while they went through their midlife crisis… 3 years later… we have no caterpillars.


But we press on. Now a loving pitstop for birds of all kinds to enjoy the chickweed. If I had known three years ago that my littlest boy would be so amazed by birds, I would have converted the weed box long ago. But, in a mother’s defense, he was a newborn when that project was in the works. Plus, the term “Bird Box” is already tarnished.

Now he sits on the porch and watches his weed box, sometimes a beautiful bluejay will land for a quick drink, but my little guy is more in love with the robins and female cardinals than anything else. He sees beauty where most don’t, and I try to cherish that part of him, hoping he never loses sight of that.


The Veggie Box


My oldest little one picked out a tomato plant last year. A kid that never eats vegetables walked through an entire garden center and came out with a tomato plant… yes, my children are odd.

He adored watching each tomato develop. As each little yellow flower turned into a tomato and then gradually turned red, he was enamored by every moment. At five years old, he was wise beyond his years and loved everything about nature, so I took as much advantage of that as possible. Some days it was simply pointing out the different colors; some days, it was learning to count with rollie pollies. He loves it all.

After I realized how much his love for nature benefited his education along with other things, I involved him in as much as I could.

This year we created the veggie garden. A box that only sits about 6 inches high but about 10 feet long now holds a world of wonder and excitement. Every time we go out to water the gardens, he checks growth and has been hands-on from the moment of the first seeds all the way through watering and weeding. He has more sweat invested in the veggie garden than any of us, and when I am out caring for my garden of boxes, he sits back in awe of the tiny plants he has grown.

The Garden of Boxes

We took our passion and built around the obstacles in place. All of us share in the love and the work in different ways, and we have learned to appreciate nature more. A little boy who was once terrified of bees is now an advocate for them. Even on the playground, he has been teaching other children about what they do and why we have to save them.

Some people have glorious gardens on acres of land. We have magnificent gardens made by hand and well-loved. Each day I take out my scissors to trim the dead flowers and prune; I am reminded of how lucky I am. I had loved ones that supported my passion, and when we wanted a garden but had no other way of having one, we built it ourselves.

My passion may not make the world a better place, but it makes our world a better place. It’s a lot of pressure to put on a garden of boxes, thank goodness we built them well.

-The Un-Traditional Mother


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