A Crown of Flowers

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Sidebar: How to Make A Birthday Garland

By Kelly Bertram
Issue 110, January/February 2002

little boy with garlandEvery year I make a flower garland for my son to wear at his birthday celebration. We began this tradition when Sairse turned one, and the garlands have been a joyous and magical aspect of his birthdays that he looks forward to each year.

On Sairse’s first birthday we were living in Olympia, Washington, where I attended Evergreen State College. The school has an organic gardening program, and the students sell their vegetables, berries, and flowers on campus all summer. My son’s very first birthday garland was created courtesy of the organic garden’s lovely bouquets.

The morning of his birthday I was up early. It was a sunny day, and light filled our apartment. I sat down on the kitchen floor and began sorting the flowers-big, fluffy asters-by color: pinks, purples, whites, and yellows. I trimmed their stems and carefully twined them together with florist wire and tape that I’d picked up at a craft store. The cats were ecstatic, scattering the discarded leaves and stems across the room, tossing them high into the air, and attacking them in delight. About an hour later, I had tucked the last flowers into place. Then I hid the garland away in the crisper, to remain secret until the party began. That morning was the first of many early mornings making birthday garlands, always it seems with the cats as my conspirators and the crisper as the hiding place.

My son’s first birthday party took place on the lawn in front of the college, late in the afternoon. Sairse endured his garland long enough for a few solemn photos; then he was off, chasing after his new soccer ball. When he looks back through his baby book and sees those pictures, his excited anticipation for his next birthday garland more than makes up for his lack of enthusiasm at the time. Now he asks about it each year months in advance!

We’ve moved often in the past six years, and flowers for the garlands have come from different places: our garden, a friend’s garden, the roadside, and, on more than one occasion, the gardens at Evergreen. Cosmos, daisies, black-eyed susans, chrysanthemums, poppies, and zinnias have all joined in our birthday celebrations. Herbs have been included as well: marjoram for joy, rosemary for love and remembrance, and lemon balm for happy spirits and wishes fulfilled.

For his sister Maddy’s first birthday last summer, Sairse and I picked flowers together out of the garden, his excitement at helping to make his sister’s first garland possibly greater than the anticipation of his own. This time the flowers were bachelor buttons, straw flowers, and snapdragons instead of asters, and the party was in our own front yard on an overcast day in Alaska. But once again one of my children was celebrating a first birthday surrounded by loved ones and flowers, beginning a tradition to enjoy for many years to come.

Maddy was no more impressed with her garland than her brother had been on his first birthday. But I have no doubt that someday she’ll delight in it just as the rest of us do. She’s just about old enough to help gather flowers herself, and her brother Gus’s first birthday is coming up soon! For additional information about birthdays, see the following articles in past issues of Mothering: “Nothing’ Like Homemade: Birthdays that Don’t Break the Bank,” no. 101 and “Birthdays Past and Present,” no. 63.

Kelly Bertram is a stay-at-home mom, student, and homeschooler. Her interests include writing, gardening, and art. She lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with her husband, Ron, a photographer, and their three children.