When it comes to making a kids-only garden, half the fun is in the designing. Here's where your backyard reflects your family's own style, your garden's conditions, and your region's climate. There are plenty of resources to advise you on the last two, but you're the expert when it comes to creating a garden that matches your family's personalities.
Brainstorm together. Try to use some part of everyone's ideas -- even if your kids claim they want a three-story tree house and a pond that has a cave you can only get to by swimming underwater -- all on your 30x30-foot suburban lot. Maybe you compromise a tad with a delightful 5x5x10-foot playhouse with vines growing up three sides and a circulating "waterfall" from the top deck to a pond below. Okay, maybe it means a twig-made dome planted with vines beside a lined half-barrel "pond." The pond features floating water plants, gold fish, and a "treasure chest" on a chain that they can drop in and pull out of the water. Your kids will love it. What they're saying is they want a lookout and a hideaway. Scale is negotiable.
The best words of advice for a first garden is to start small (and add on or up). Even beloved children's book character, Mary Lennox, stuck flowers in little beds before she boldly asked her uncle, "Might I have a bit of earth?" Then she revived "The Secret Garden."
One easy design is to divide one-foot-squares with paths, adding as many as you'd like in whatever pattern suits your spot. The paths can be made of stones, bark mulch, newspaper covered with straw, or even boards. Kids plant something different in each square. The design is tidy and manageable. Circular gardens are fun, too. Slice them, pie-fashion, with the paths.
Once you have your basic shape, sketch it out on graph paper with one square equaling one foot. First add paths, and next draw any structures you're dreaming of (see Chapter 4). Perhaps a theme will dictate your design (see chapter 5). Choose the plants last. But before you do, here are some practical landscape considerations to think about as you fill that bit of earth:
- As you choose your location, think inside out. Place the garden/play area where you can see it from your kitchen window or other rooms you spend a lot of time in.
- Look up and down. Before you dig, be aware of any power lines, pipes, septic systems, or other existing limitations.
- Create your space. A fence or wall adds privacy and sets boundaries for kids and gear.
- Choose your materials wisely. They should resist rust, rot, and roughhousing. Surfaces should be comfortable and safe for bare feet but not too slippery when wet.
- Give yourself room. Make paths that are at least 2 feet wide.
- Create a garden place for family gatherings. No space? At least make room for kids' outdoor lunches. You don't have to build a deck; a simple fire pit for roasting marshmallows in a country yard or a canopy in a corner of an urban lot will do.
- Make the yard adaptable as the kids grow. Can you someday dismantle that playhouse to make a teen game room?