Many of my clients have children, grandchildren, or friends with little ones that they want to accommodate in their new gardens. I support this endeavor 100%, they love to be involved in the garden and outdoors! What a gift we can give them by letting them share the outdoor world and giving them some "ownership" in part of the landscape. They become stewards of the land and they get very creative with this opportunity. The traditional school of thought is we have to provide them with big play sets and large lawns. I encourage you to think outside that box and look at new and creative ways!
I have several approaches I take to introducing kids to their gardens and giving them a space of their own.
One way to involve the kids is with a planting bed, just for them, that they can grow edible plants in that suit their fancy. These can be raised garden beds or dedicated areas in the garden that the kids can be responsible for in planting and managing the vegetation they choose. In these gardens, the kids get to pick out their own fruits, vegetables and herbs to plant, tend to them throughout the year and then then enjoy the reward of the harvest. They are proud of what they are able to grow! Easy and fun plants to grow in these gardens for snacking are peas, strawberries, blueberries, herbs, and so many more. Whatever they choose from seed or starts will be a hit!
Another opportunity is to create an outdoor fairy garden. This can be as simple as finding a nook in the yard where you plant miniature vegetation and a mosaic of steppable groundcovers. The soft groundcovers will grow into each other and create a carpet of color and textures. It’s soft for little bodies to sit on, among the plantings and other elements we can introduce. Next you can add pebbles for a riverbed, logs, bridges, pathways, etc. The fun part is to accessorize! Take a quick trip to Goodwill or other second hand stores with your kids and let them pick out miniature furnishings, homes, statuettes, or other items to decorate. For our family fairy garden, we found old ceramic Christmas houses and a Japanese pagoda from a fish tank. The kids tucked them into the plants, and a fairy village was born. If your fairy garden is next to a street or the sidewalk, invite neighbors to participate and add to the garden. Our family did this once and magical little tea sets, shiny rocks, and other fun items would periodically appear from the neighbors. The kids would think it was so exciting to see what would show up!
A final idea is to let nature lead the way. Constructed gardens can have a “natural” feel simply by integrating elements such as a dry creek bed, placed boulders, and fallen logs. This doesn’t scream “kids play space!” but it certainly can become one. Things to jump on, hop over, and even places to dig in. I like to add areas in these creek beds with pea gravel extensions or termination points. The gravel areas look like they are a part of the creek bed, but they are a ton of fun for smaller kids to grab a shovel and a dump truck and play in. It is a material many preschools and playgrounds use and for good reason- pea gravel feels good for kids to sit in, walk through, and dig in. If this material doesn’t strike you, you can add a sand pit as another option. As the kids get older, this “naturescape” can blend into the landscape and grow with the family.
In the end, a little creativity goes a long way, for both parents and the kids. Integrate garden elements, create ownership, tuck in magical items where you can, and you will have kids who will love to spend time outdoors and appreciate your outdoor environment!