Theme gardens are like planning a great party or getting to decorate your kids' bedrooms over each year--only gardens grow and blossom. To create a theme, you can borrow from birthday and Halloween themes or stick to the children's classics, such as Peter Rabbit (don't forget the carrots and the blue jacket) or the Wizard of Oz (poppies, yellow brick, and of course a scarecrow). Here are a few fresh ideas.
- Outer Space. Grow vines up a rocket fashioned of bamboo canes. Hang some hand-made stars and planets from the canes and think cosmic when it comes to plants: cosmos, of course, rocket flowers, moonflowers, moon and stars watermelon ... the sky's the limit.
- Pocahantas' Own. Forget the Disney version of this classic story. As a child, the real Pocahontas and her Powhatan playmates sat in scarecrow huts waiting for crows to dare to eat their 'Nothstine' or 'Golden Bantam' corn. They had face-painted ceremonial poles encircling their gardens. Passionflowers entwined their 'Mammoth' sunflowers. Of course, they grew crookneck squash and beans (similar to 'Turkey Craw'), too.
- July Fourth. Plan ahead for your local Fourth of July celebration, and you'll be properly decorated. You may even have a float for the town parade if you plant your garden in a mobile little red wagon. Let red, white, and blue flowers abound. Include a sweet alyssum border, geraniums, lobelia, cosmos, begonias, and impatiens. For the finishing touch, add American flags to the mix.
- Tea Time. I once came upon a small tea garden featuring 10 plants surrounding--what else?-- a large old teakettle. Try planting German chamomile, calendula, lemon verbena, peppermint, alpine strawberries, bronze fennel, dwarf German sage, lemongrass, anise hyssop, and lemon balm. Install a bench and table, and let your little ones host a garden tea party.
- Sweet Chocolates. Scour catalogs for "chocolate" varieties of plants--usually those with a scent slightly reminiscent of the sweet stuff. Sometimes chocolate is just in the name. Group Chocolate veil huechera, "Chocolate Soldiers" columbine, chocolate cosmos, chocolate-mint scented germanium, and chocolate mint. Don't forget to mulch with cocoa beans. And remind kids that not all that smells like chocolate is actually edible.
- Fairy Lure. Think small. Choose plenty of low-growing, tiny-leafed plants and those with hanging bells and cuplike flowers (after all, that's where the fairies hide). Carpet their dance floor with thymes and mosses. If you're not wary of poisonous plants, foxgloves and Solomon's seal form a comparatively tall forest. A shallow pool or fountain is a bonus. Best of all, add a hollow stump with a hole doorway at the base. Not everyone will spy the fairies that will visit this magical place. It helps if you hum that old camp song "White Coral Bells."
- Alphabet Gardens. This is just one fun idea if you have room for 26 plants. Let your youngster choose from asters to zinnias, and make signs for each plant.
- More. The Michigan 4-H Children's Garden has 56 inspiring theme gardens, and you don't have to travel to East Lansing for ideas. Instead, check out their Web site.