On Motherhood and Our Garden

I grew up in a garden on a farm thirteen minutes from my home. It was my grandparent’s farm, a magical place with old barns full of furniture, little corners perfect for curling up with a book and trees that made perfect hiding places, houses and pirate ships.  

I do not exaggerate when I say I grew up there. When I was just six months old, my mother brought our family back to Rockford from our life out east precisely so that my childhood would be one of the wild, of the land, of dirt, of a garden, of the midwest.  


alt="Sarah-Eva with her two daughters in the garden"

She believes deeply in the importance of gardening for children. In fact, when I told her I was writing this article, she promptly disappeared into another room only to return with a handful of books about why a childhood should be spent gardening. They sit beside me now, but I don’t need to read them. My mother taught me everything I need to know about the importance of gardens already. In fact, my conception of motherhood and parenting, if I were to think of it in reverse from her perspective, is completely about gardens. She used it as a place for our childhood legs to know freedom and adventure and independence. There was the time it started to absolutely pour, but instead of retreating inside, we slid down unplanted field rows until we were caked in mud and laughing too hard to care about the cold.  

From April to October, we spent every Sunday in the garden. It was required, sacred family time — so sacred that it trumped my need to attend our church’s youth group that also met that night.  We weeded and picked and talked. I remember so much talking. About life, about people. Often, family friends would join us and that made it all the more fun. Growing up, I didn’t know many women who worked in paying jobs, but I knew female community, women who gathered together to nourish stomachs and spirits.  

On hot summer nights, my father would take my siblings to go get ice cream, but my mother was never done in the garden in time, so I would stay with her instead and finish weeding around the onions or squishing potato beetles or picking up the shovels. I didn’t want her to be alone. Looking back now, that need never to leave someone behind has been as much a blessing as a curse in my life. But every time, even then, it was in that choice that I learned much about life. Those conversations, together in the dark, bound us in a way that helped our relationship during the teenage years.  

alt="adults and children playing with garden tools near a red barn"

My mother used the garden as a healing place, knowing it would feed us and aid our journey to productive adulthood when words wouldn’t work. Like the time I was angry at some friends (and her and the whole world) and she sent me out to the garden to weed. I was mad, but not for long. With every pull of a weed, every moment my fingernails dug into the dirt, I felt better. I looked up and watched a sunset and never forgot that simply by changing my behavior, I could change how I felt.  

It’s a lesson I remembered early in my Floracracy journey, back when I would sit for long hours in my extra bedroom with a list of industry problems and customer complaints against my wall.  People and flowers had become so distant from each other. What was once supposed to make us stronger and more connected had become an industry that drove disappointment, felt cheap, and was viewed as impersonal. How do you fix something like that? How do you make people feel differently about something toward which they had such strong associations?  

You change behavior. You make the experience so different that it can do nothing but evoke a different reaction.   

When I was sixteen, I grew tired of tomatoes and peppers. I craved my own space. I wanted freedom. I was a teenager and I decided to exert my independence as only a gardener can: I decided to go into the herb business. I thought I could get away with it since it gave me what I was craving — more beauty— but still had a functional purpose. Those pretty thyme flowers had edible leaves, and so I made the pitch. My mother agreed and my father plowed a fresh plot of land that was technically right next to the compost pile, but I didn’t care. I had a corner of the garden to call my own and I quickly moved away from the boring straight rows in “their” garden and dragged hundreds of flat limestone rocks from surrounding fields to make windy English paths in mine. Looking back now, our different rows spoke volumes of who was I was becoming, and who I didn’t want to be, and how that would impact my relationship with my mother.  

My mother and I hashed out those middle years in that garden, when I was ending my childhood and struggling to find my place as an adult. Already, as a teenager, I was itching to see the world. I had an urgency in my heart that made the garden feel slow and pointless. And with my hunger to see the world grew a complexity in my relationship with my mother. All of that time in my life became encapsulated in one single item in that garden: my first effort at planting a plain old flower. While my mother and I shopped one Sunday for plants, I asked for a wild rose bush I had found and in which I’d fallen in love. I had visions of rose water and rose hip teas and vases and vases of wild roses. It was wild, free, beautiful.  

No, she told me. It couldn’t last the winter, she said. I insisted. She relented under the condition that I would bring it in that winter, and I planted it. That rose marked a new beginning. 

That fall, I forgot to bring it into the house. In fact, I increasingly forgot about the garden altogether. 

While in college, my father would still turn the soil each spring for me. The first summer, I think I went with my mother and bought some herbs. The next, she bought them, I might have planted them, and then I forgot about them. By the third summer, I don’t know that I entered it, however much my parents would remind me.  

I moved away to Europe and then New York. My visits home were rare and busy when they happened. Trees started to grow and my father had to stop plowing it.  Every summer, my mother would ask, “what are you going to do with your garden?  It’s sitting there empty.” With those words, she was asking, when are you coming home? When will you write back to my letters? I miss you. And I didn’t know how to respond. I didn’t know how I would ever bring my new life back to that place and the world she and I had shared there in the fields.  

In fact, the only thing that remained was the rose bush, which grew into a massive bush that took over all the mint, which was the only other plant that seemed hearty enough to survive without care. It was awkward and out of place as the only flower in a dead field surrounded by vegetables. It felt like I felt: I didn’t know how to be grown up me and a daughter at the same time. 

My mother made a brilliant move, one I hope I will have the courage to make when the time comes for me to negotiate my adult relationship with my own daughters. She just let the garden sit, fully admitting to me now that she never thought I’d use it again.    

She waited and our world turned again. 

I got engaged and I came up with the idea for what would become Floracracy. At the time, it was such an intellectual exercise. Trying to make flowers back then was a matter of logical patterns and algorithms. I didn’t even have money to buy flowers. I lived in an apartment far away from the family farm.  

And then something happened: I became a mother and, after falling terribly ill after the birth of my child, I moved back to Illinois, bringing with me my tiny idea of a flower business. It took two more years, but last summer, I realized I needed a test garden. I went to my parents and asked if I could have my old herb garden back to use as a test garden for Floracracy.  

Of course, they said.

alt="mother and daughter near garden tools"


I dug out the rocks from the stone path that hadn’t yet completely sunk down into the dirt, and my father plowed it once again. Together we pulled all but one of the trees out of the old garden, except one, which I kept remembering the time away and the beauty that came out of it.  

With my own daughters playing next to me, I planted an entire garden of flowers. Some died. Some thrived. The sweet peas, a May flower, bloomed well into August.  

This summer, the business doesn’t need my herb garden. We’ve outgrown it already with our own long list of farms and suppliers that can grow far more and far better than I can.  

But I do. I need it now as a place where I can sit with my daughters. My eldest is four, and I now need a place where we can talk until the sky darkens and it’s safe enough to say the words and make the memories that can survive the many years when, again, the herb garden will sit and wait for life to turn again. 


For more from Sarah Eva's Desk, see 5 Ways to Avoid Gifting Flowers that Feel Impersonal and Cliche

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