The Endless Possibilities of a Children’s Garden
Studies show spending time in gardens and green spaces or directly nurturing plants, is healthy for us. In fact, hospitals often use surrounding gardens and plants in therapeutic programs. This realization also leads to another great reality; we need to plant, protect and conserve our plants and green spaces.
Children’s gardens are,my most beloved type of garden. They challenge the creative mind, create a fun way to get kids outside, inspire curiosity and a caring nature. They are a fun learning experience for adults too! They can be as simple as a few containers on your porch to a beautiful giant backyard garden. The ideas are endless and the resources are many. You may like to engage your child from the beginning. What interests them? Is it food and cooking, animals at the zoo, color, flowers, insects, soil, music, textures, trains, fairies? As I said, the ideas are limitless! Once you have talked with your child, it is time to get creative and connect those ideas to the garden. Let’s start with some simplicity and discuss the world of plants. Even if you only have a small amount of space for some containers or a small garden bed, the plant world offers no excuses for lack of ideas. If you have sun, growing food in the garden is a wonderful place to start, and can be a great way to get children involved. Choose a few seeds and plants from their favorite fruits and veggies list. Maybe add something they have never tried before. Using transparent seed containers step it up a notch and let the child see how things grow. Start a calendar and check the seeds or plants each day. When it is time to harvest, plan recipes to use the produce. There is a whole tiny world out there. Encouraging that discovery may instill the understanding of sharing it with other living things and growing organic as possible. What kind of insects pollinate the flowers or eat the leaves? Are these tiny animals harmful or beneficial? You may find that caterpillars eat leaves, but one day become beautiful, pollinating butterflies or moths. Plants are living things and have needs just like humans and animals. So, before you get a pet, this is a way to introduce the child to caring for a living thing.
Make it fun. If your child is an animal lover there are many interesting looking plants that are named after animals. In fact this is one of my personal favorite ways to discover plants! Plants have evolved to survive the world in many curious ways by producing interesting root, leaf, stem and flower parts. They can provide fun visual and touch exploration like the funky flower of the Bat Flower or soft, pettable leaves like Lambs Ears. Delving deeper into the science you might ask why these leaves, flowers, stems or roots are made this way. Other plants are named for music or musical bands. What a great way to get a teenager involved! And you are in real luck if your child likes miniatures. There’s no better way to fit a garden into a small space when making a home for fairies and gnomes to roam. You could even create a little miniature countryside for their toy trains to explore. A quick search on google and a trip to your local garden center with your child is a fun way to plan the garden together. In order to accommodate your children’s wonderful ideas, containers can be built or bought in an array of sizes and shapes. As I said, the ideas for a container garden can be limitless!
For those who have a yard and hate to chemically treat and mow your lawn, how about replacing it with a children’s garden? And you thought the ideas were limitless with a small area! Think of what you can do with a whole yard. It can be transformed into a sanctuary for the whole family, with nooks and crannies to hide or have a tea party; discover wildlife or practice your own physical limitations surrounded by calm and beauty.
Building a garden large or small is often a daunting idea, but here is what I have found: you start with a small idea and build it in sections. Over the years, as your garden grows, you may decide to make a garden of rooms and paths, and forego the lawn you hate to mow. Again, start with your child and talk over some ideas. In this case, you might even make it a family conversation and build a garden that incorporates fun things for all to enjoy. Here is where it really gets interesting! There are so many things to consider and try! I have seen miniature train gardens, gardens with stepping bridges and hideouts, gardens that explore the world of color and textures. There exists harmless insect attracting gardens that investigate odd shaped flowers and large vegetable gardens with fun artistic structures. Consider the therapeutic opportunities like writing and music, quiet, calm reflection and spending time together. A Children’s Garden opens a world to all ages offering a place to explore science, engineering, history, culinary arts, environmental stewardship, art and creation. Even math has a place in the garden, teehee!
Now it would be amiss, to leave you hanging, overflowing, with all of this inspiration and not take you just a bit further. So let’s go over some pointers. Start with an idea and do a little research. For plant ideas, you can visit a botanical or children’s garden (virtually if need be). Many botanical gardens, parks and even schools have incorporated children’s gardens. They often have suggested plant lists that are proven and easy to grow. What kind of plants work in the garden idea you and your child want to create? Do they need sun or shade? Next, select a site,“draw it out” with flags or spray paint. Here enters the fun little math lesson sprinkled with some creative flare: measure the size and find the area. This will help you decide how many plants and what size plants will work in the area. It is also smart to dig a hole or till your soil and take a sample. Make note of how moist your soil is on a dry day and how many hours your new garden space will have sun. Armed with all of this information, your local garden center, extension agent or a professional horticulturist will suggest which plants are right for your space. Choose the ones you like best. Your pallet is almost endless! They will also be able to give you recommendations on how to improve your soil. Soil preparation, amendment and diverse plant choices are very important for a successful, healthy, garden.
Once you have chosen your plants, you might like to make a design on paper. Consider the height and width of the plants at full growth as well as the color, texture and bloom time. This will help you and your child place the plants in an attractive grouping.
Plant your garden in fall or early spring between the rains. Planting at this time will better prepare your garden to live through its first summer. In order to establish your new garden the first year, water throughout the dry summer months. I highly recommend including your child in all facets of garden preparation. In doing so you are instilling a sense of appreciation, determination and wonder all in one fell swoop! You are now well equipped with the basics. All you need is a little bit of your family’s personality.
So, as you can see, a Children’s Garden can be full of fun, creative, inspiration and offer a healthy mind and body during these uncertain times. The possibilities of garden ideas are endless and offer every lesson you could learn in school. You just need to find out your child’s interest, or maybe even the lack of interest. Sometimes a lack of interest in a particular school lesson is made more interesting in a real life, hands on situation. Gardening is giving a child life skills. So, slay the apathy! Sway the energy! Excite the brain, get outside and plant!
Kyra Back works for the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden as Lead Horticulturist of Growing and Display Garden Design. She is one of the lead horticulturists in charge of growing and display garden design at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden. Her horticultural career spans 30 plus years and includes work in garden centers, floral design, landscaping and growing.