Let your child discover nature in a fun way—by creating their own garden. by RUSSELL MCCULLEY It’s hardly a coincidence that so many children’s stories are set in gardens. To a child, the garden represents a comfortable middle ground between home and safety, yet it also conjures up the mysterious world of adventure and imagination. In the garden, a simple shrub becomes a lush jungle canopy, a dragonfly an elaborate flying machine, a green lizard a prehistoric dinosaur. No wonder kids take to it so readily. In gardens, kids “create a connection between themselves and the environment,” says Bonnie Goldblum, executive director of Longue Vue House and Gardens, where the lush grounds contain a children’s Discovery Garden. “It challenges them to use their imagi-nation. So much entertainment is spoon-fed today. But in the garden, you can imagine what it’s like to be a butterfly or a bug, what it’s like to live in that environment.” With a little imagination of your own, it’s easy to create a garden environment where kids can play, plant and forge their own connection to the natural world. At the same time, says landscape architect Jeannette Roussell of Land-scape Images, a child’s garden helps adults reconnect with the sense of “whimsy and playfulness” of youth. “The most important thing is that you add that sense of make-believe and imagination,” she says. • Like any successful garden, a child’s area should include plants and objects that provide sensory stimulation: colorful flowers, interesting scents and textures, wind chimes or rustling grasses for sound, and plants or feeders to attract wildlife. “With color, you’re setting up a backdrop, and a lot of these colorful plants will attract butterflies and hummingbirds,” says Roussell. Consider a Buddleia, or butterfly bush, an exotic and attractive passion flower vine (passiflora), and perhaps a well-placed hummingbird feeder. • Keep safety in mind, especially where younger children are concerned. Avoid prickly or poisonous plants, known allergens and potentially hazardous water features, if the garden incorporates a fountain or pond. “You have to childproof the garden the way you would childproof an indoor setting,” Roussell says. • Incorporate a child’s play area into the overall landscape. “Don’t think of a sandbox as something stuck out in the middle of the yard,” Roussell says. Instead, tuck the sandbox away in the garden, where you can keep a watchful eye on it, but where a child can feel like she has her own private hideaway. A decorative canopy in the shape of a circus tent or ship’s sail provides shelter and a nice focal point. Similarly, an arbor makes an attractive frame for a baby swing, which can be replaced with an adult swing when baby grows up. • Let children help decide what goes into the ground, especially if edible plants are part of the garden. “Set aside a space where they can have their own, and let them be responsible for it,” Roussell suggests. A few tomato plants and some herbs like basil and mint are fun to grow and stimulating to the senses. “It’s a good way to get kids to eat their vegetables,” she says. “You can tell them, ‘this is something we’re going to use in our salad or on our pizza,’ something they would have fun growing.” • Allow the garden be the outdoor equivalent of the refrigerator door by using it to display children’s weatherproof art: a birdhouse they painted themselves, for example, or do-it-yourself concrete stepping stones that they can decorate with marbles, mosaic tiles and their own foot and hand prints. Topiary adds a touch of whimsy, too, and many garden shops sell wire supports for ivy that come in animal shapes: chickens, teddy bears or swinging monkeys. “It adds that sense of playfulness that’s so inviting,” Roussell says. “The whole point is to make it fun. You make something that’s safe but fun, and that children are not going to be bored by because there’s so much to engage them.” •

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