Have you ever considered involving your children in the planning and design of your garden spaces? Well, you should. Too many children these days have very little connection to the outdoors and the things that grow there. They spend much of their time engrossed in TV and their smart phones.
Garden spaces oriented toward children need to be welcoming and instill a sense of security. This can be achieved by adding fencing and lockable gate entrances. While older children often favor privacy, younger children may feel uncomfortable and intimidated when isolated from parents. Solutions could include adding connecting paths to other garden areas, providing viewing opportunities from windows and decks, and including gaps in landscape plantings to allow peek-in views. Play facilities for young toddlers might be incorporated into patio or deck areas where children and parents can interact.
When it comes to planning outdoor areas for children, one of the most common shortfalls is underestimating the amount of space required. Play equipment, storage space, tables and chairs for arts and crafts, etc. can all take up a lot of space. Visit equipment suppliers and other children's gardens to help you estimate how much square footage you might require.
As tots mature into teenagers, their interests and physical abilities change dramatically. Toddlers, who often love their fairy gardens, soon graduate to playhouses and tree houses and later, as teenagers, to shady patios to relax and read a book or spread out their yoga mats. Our computer-driven digital world has also made the garden a place for interacting with friends on social media or a location to show outdoor movies. The key is to remain open minded, flexible and prepared for lots of change as family members mature.
As children age, outdoor structures that once entertained them can become passé. Don't despair --these same facilities can be adapted and repurposed. A sandbox could become a large planter or, with the insertion of a liner, a water feature. The once-popular playhouse could be repurposed into a potting shed. The overhead beams of a child's swing set could become part of a new pergola. There are many possibilities.
Once you've established how much space you'll need, it's time to personalize it. This helps children take ownership of those areas. It could include painting an outdoor playhouse in bold colors or supplying a chalk wall to accommodate outdoor artwork. Pathways leading to a playhouse or child's vegetable garden could be bordered by painted stones decorated with decals of favorite animals or beloved cartoon characters. You'll be surprised by youngsters' creativity, given the opportunity.
While children have life-stage-specific needs, there are activities that cross age boundaries. Vegetable and wildlife gardens, for example, provide important learning opportunities that can foster motor skills, strength and provide stress relief. In a small city garden, it may not be feasible to have a dedicated children's vegetable garden. In such a case, the family vegetable garden allows parents and children to work together sowing seeds, weeding, watering and, best of all, harvesting and eating the produce. It's critical that children's tools are sized to their age and that parents tackle the heavier tasks.
Wildlife gardens provide a further opportunity for adults to introduce children to nature's mysteries. This could include building and installing nesting boxes, bee homes, caterpillar feeding sites and, perhaps, even a toad house. Growing plants that encourage pollinators and other beneficial creatures is another valuable family project.
Next time I'll delve into age appropriate garden ideas, garden structures, plant selection and some safety rules you may need to follow.
Jim Leser retired to Cedaredge in 2007 after a career with Texas A&M University Extension in entomology. He is a member of the Cedaredge Tree Board and a Colorado Master Gardener.