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A garden that invites, inspires and involves your kids is an easy win for team parenting and Mother Nature too. Here’s some summer inspiration to help you grow the next Generation Green and to fully take advantage of Nature’s organic classroom. You can easily create the ultimate kid-friendly garden, filled with adventure and exploration that supports developing senses, motor skills, and a connection with the Earth.
A stimulating sensory experience
Independent play and the freedom for exploration-based learning is an important part of childhood. From edible pots to wind chimes and treacherous lava floors, there is something to appeal to every child’s interest. Remember moms and dads, the goal is to encourage more of a ‘hands-on’ approach and less ‘don’t touch’. With inviting play areas and clearly marked pots, kids can connect with their senses and imagination without limitations, and you can rest assured that your prized roses are safe from inquisitive little fingers.
- Fun at first sight: A garden that looks visibly interesting with a variety of colours, textures, and a few intriguing items will get their curiosity going. Create an obstacle course by incorporating different-sized tree stumps or rocks as stepping-stones over some dangerous lava looking succulents and spikey grass.
Plant picks: Rooiblaarplakkie (Kalanchoe sexangularis) is a hardy succulent, perfect as a lava substitute. Sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) are big, bold, and beautiful cut flowers. Starlight grass (Anthericum) brings in strong texture and contrast for the rugged garden warrior.
- Monkey see, monkey play! Instead of a standard wooden jungle gym, get creative with something totally unique. There are several companies that can provide custom requests, so think about what your child would really enjoy. Perhaps they like to climb high and swing on bars, or maybe they like hiding spots with a cooking/experiment station.
- Sounds that soothe: A DIY hand shaker project with some scavenged dried seeds or stones inside empty spice bottles may motivate the kinaesthetically inclined child to engage their sense of sound. Wind chimes create an ambient, soothing atmosphere in the garden, perfect for calming busy bodies. A water feature also helps encourage more gentle playtime and promotes an awareness of subtle and comforting sounds.
Singsong pipes – Here’s a cost-effective idea for the music-loving child: Create a hanging metal pipe curtain against a wall or hanging from a tree branch. Use different sized poles and include a mystery music box nearby with drumsticks and shakers. Kids can start a band in the backyard and have fun developing their love of music and rhythm.
- The science of smell: Encouraging kids to literally stop and smell the flowers is essential in cultivating an ethos of appreciation and conservation in the new generation. Creating a DIY potpourri experimentation station is a hands-on strategy to develop their noses while opening a space for real connection and engagement with organic floral scents.
Plant picks: Angel’s Trumpet (Brugmansia) for kids who like to get right under and in there. Plumerias (Frangipani, Pua Melia) are as pretty as their perfume. Picking petals from Star Jasmine is fantastic for fine motor skills. Rosemary, Lavender, and Mint are tried favourites too.
A tepee braai: This idea is great for the bigger family and for when friends come over. It’s super easy to build a couple of tepees from poles and plastic tarp/canvas. Equip each tepee with a little braai in the front and allow the kids to cook their own food. Nothing quite engages our sense of smell like a lekker SA braai; just make sure to keep an eye on your chefs. Kids will love eating their meal inside their awesome tepees too!
- Tasting is terrific: Grouping edible flowers, berries, and herbs together in a large container allows kids safe and easy access to taste and appreciate some home grown goodness. Get the kids to pick herbs for dinner, give them the chore of watering the edible garden, or simply allow them free reign to cook up some tasty herb and mud cakes for the fairies.
Plant picks: Basil is a taste explosion and good for stimulating little pallets. Gooseberries are fun to pick and loaded with nutrients. Wild Malva (Pelargonium culallatum) is a colourful treat because who wouldn’t want to eat a flower! And of course, there are strawberries, which can please even the fussiest of eaters.
Treats from the dragon’s lair – Harvesting food from a themed edible garden/container becomes a tasty imagination-fuelled quest! You can build a raised wooden food garden shaped and painted like a dragon, for example, or a scary monster. Perhaps kids need to take a handful of compost as a peace offering to the dragon, and they must return with a few removed weeds! Remember to include a basket for them to gather yummies in.
- Getting in touch: Let’s reward curiosity by welcoming your child’s obsession to touch everything! A row of varying sized and angled PVC pipes against a wall provides endless opportunities for car races and stick probing. In addition, halved horizontal pipes make great space-saving vertical gardens, which you can fill with a variety of spikey, smooth, furry and rough foliage.
Plant picks: Most aloes are nice and spikey with enough hardiness to withstand a little educational probing. Lamb’s ear (Stachys byzantina) is a lovely choice for something furry. Try bringing in some Asparagus Fern (Asparagus plumosus) for a fine-feeling climber between your pipe-play wall.
Feel the beach vibes – Reinvent the standard sandpit! Get the kids excited about outside by introducing something like a pretend beach day. Dig a decent sized hole, layer with plastic sheeting, and then fill with soft beach sand. Throw in a couple of beach toys, ice cream for bribery, and sunscreen to bring back holiday memories. Don’t forget a few buckets of ‘seawater’!
No one knows your child as you do, so put those creative green fingers to work and remember – if you build it, they will come!
Incorporate the plant picks and playtime ideas into your garden and bring your kids back to life. Their senses will flourish and so too will their connection with our Earth. Here’s to the next generation of passionate, conscious gardeners!
For more gardening tips and ‘greenspiration’ visit the Life is a Garden website www.lifeisagarden.co.za
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