Sprucing Up Your Backyard for Kids
For the vast majority of moms, warm weather brings a sigh of relief. The kids can finally play outside! No more ball throwing in the house (well, less). Kids can run off steam in the grass instead of through the kitchen, and the play areas have increased exponentially. Add on cool bonuses like hunting for rocks and bugs, having lunch outside and not watching television for a while, and it's no wonder we wait all winter for days like these.
Still, there are easy ways you can actually increase the functionality and fun of the backyard for little ones. All it takes is a little imagination and some flowers to make this season really blossom for your kids.
Gardening With Kids in Mind
Stacey Rocklin, horticulturalist at the Leila Arboretum in Battle Creek, Mich., encourages parents to create something special in their home gardens for their children. "Anything we have done in the LAS Children's Garden can be recreated at home," she says. "All it takes is getting to know the plants needed to create the garden and finding the space to make it happen."
Rocklin believes that children learn a wide spectrum of lessons from working at and enjoying a garden, especially if the outdoor project is tailored to their sensibilities. "For instance, to create your own pizza garden, just prepare a circle of soil at least three feet in diameter and plant a wheat crust, fill in the center of the circle with three paste tomatoes, some onions, garlic cloves, several basil plants, green peppers, oregano and enough orange and yellow marigolds to make it look cheesy!" When everything is grown the pizza garden can become a spot to pick from for kids to make their own pizzas as well.
When planning special outdoor spaces for kids, it's important to keep some basic safety rules in mind. "First, think safety," says Mary Donovan, an interior and exterior designer. "Lock up tools and chemicals. Be careful what plants you use. Thorns and razor sharp leaves make very bad playmates. Also, most parents don't realize that some commonly sold plants can be toxic. Try to hold off on installing pools, spas and ponds until your children are old enough to enjoy them without constant supervision."
Rocklin has a unique suggestion for including some water affects while maintaining safety. For kids too young to be near a pond, Rocklin suggests installing a natural looking spring. "Install a fountain with no exposed surface water, only running water," she says. "This can be done by covering the pool of the fountain with a grate and covering that with rocks so the fountain looks like a spring of water coming up out of the ground." When children are older, Rocklin suggests adding a pond. "Any activity spots that involve water and motion are great for children," she says. "Even a small pond at home can help teach children many valuable lessons about ecology, nature, animals and how to be a good steward for our environment."
Kid Size It!
To bring more fun into the garden, bring the garden down to kid-level. "Add child-sized furnishing and garden tools for kids to use alongside of you," Donovan says. "Lots of children enjoy having their own 'secret garden,' play fort or vegetable patch. They don't have to be large areas and will bring hours of fun."
Create a special area for noontime picnics, like under a big shade tree or patio area. Add-on stylish but sturdy decorative touches like a serving tray, colorful picnic-ware and plantings to make the kids feel like they are at a "grown-up" café.
A Storybook Affair
Rocklin suggests adding some fun with a sandbox surrounded with plantings or a potting bench to encourage everyone to get their hands dirty gardening. You can also include a canopy and padded cover for a sandbox that can function as a lid or extra play spot.
Rocklin says to think about what your kids like and translate that into the garden. At the children's garden, this is done by incorporating popular nursery rhymes, including "Jack and the Beanstalk," into the gardens. Rocklin says projects like these can easily be done at home. "'Jack and the Beanstalk' is a very simple garden to make at home by building a beanpole and growing as many different kinds of climbing beans as you like on the pole," she says. "Peter Rabbit's garden is also an easy project for home. Just read the story, pick out which vegetables your family likes and plant them around a garden gate. Hang a little rabbit's coat on the fence for whimsy, and the result is nothing short of inspiring."
Plants for Little People
Stacey Rocklin urges parents to grow plants that will excite and inspire little ones. She has listed her top picks for maximum kid-appeal.
- Sunflowers: Tall ones are awe inspiring for children.
- Petunias of many colors help children see that plants aren't just green.
- Ornamental grasses: Be mindful to choose grasses that are soft to the touch. Some good choices include maiden grass, Morning Light, black or purple fountain grasses, feather grass and any of the bronze or green sedges.
- Aquatic plants like papyrus, spiral rush, water lilies and water hyacinth are great for kids to find the fish under, through and around.
- Impatiens: Kids can pop the seedpods.
- Love in a puff: Kids can pop the seedpods and find the hearts on the seeds inside.
- Lambs ears because they are incredibly soft to the touch.
- Cut-flower kinds of plants, like cosmos, coneflowers, black-eyed-Susans, bold painted daisies, baby's breath, bachelor's button, zinnias, strawflowers, blanket flowers, larkspurs, chrysanthemums, asters and balloon flowers.