My First Garden

Garden Planning: Start Small and Dream Big

When it comes to designing your home garden, half the fun is in the planning. Your yard reflects your family’s own style, your garden’s conditions, and your region’s climate. While there are plenty of resources to advise you on the last two, you’re the expert when it comes to creating a garden that matches your family’s personalities and needs. Give your children a voice in your garden’s design and plantings to help generate interest and a lifelong passion for nature. It also creates memories and teaches cooperation, patience, and responsibility. Brainstorm together and don’t be afraid to use your imagination!

Dream Big

Start by using old magazines, newspapers, and art materials. Create a postboard size vision of the garden, encourage your child to label structures and identify desired flowers and plants. For younger children, encourage them to phonetically spell out words, inventive spelling is essential for beginning readers and writers. Don’t be afraid to dream big and talk with your children about their vision of the perfect garden space, this gives you an opportunity to dream as well. Encourage your children to use their imagination and share their ideas by reflecting on garden features you may have seen together on a family trip, at the playground, or perhaps at a children’s garden.

Castles, waterfalls, and ponds are frequent requests of young children for garden structures. It’s important to hear these ideas and later consider how to create small or alternative versions. We have included some suggestions for creating inexpensive and creative garden structures below.

Start Small

When it comes to implementing ideas and making an official plan, you may need to scale it down. Begin by drawing or creating a digital model of the actual size of the space you have to work with- it may only be a small strip of land, a deck or perhaps a large backyard. Now you know what you are working with and can begin to think about your child’s ideas in terms of how they can come to fruition.

Once you have your basic shape, sketch it out on graph paper or use a digital model, try to keep it to scale using one square equaling one foot. First add paths or any permanent structures that exist in your space. Next draw any structures you’d like to include, perhaps a theme will dictate your design. The last step will be choosing plants that best accommodate your design, space, and budget. But before you do, here are some practical landscape considerations to think about as you fill that bit of earth:

  • Have a small space? Try planting in unique shapes or patterns.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.
  • Consider where there is the most sunlight and the most shade, you will need to choose plants accordingly.
  • A fence or wall adds privacy and sets boundaries for kids.
  • 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, don’t overcrowd the space. If you are including paths make sure they are at least 2 feet wide.
  • Create a 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- are there are structures that you will be able to adapt as the children grow older?

Exciting Garden Structures and Features

  • You may already know that you cannot install that castle, moat, or climbing rock but using some of the alternative structures and garden ideas below you can still generate excitement and joy.
  • Plan a sunflower house by planting sunflowers in a square to form a “room”
  • Using five or more poles or large branches bound at the top and grow gourds, beans, cucumbers, miniature pumpkins, morning glories, or love-in-a-puff.
  • Create a tunnel: insert 8-foot poles every 3 feet along both sides of a path; lash horizontal poles at 2-, 4-, and 6-foot heights; and then plant and train vines along this corridor.
  • Use a simple platform to create a stage or as a gathering place. Consider building a small wooden deck (child-sized) with 2 x 4’s and plywood.
  • Instead of a water feature, create a shallow bird bath.
  • Arrange 4-5 tree stumps at varying heights (not too tall) for children to step across or move throughout the yard.
  • Use a shallow children’s pool as a circular raised garden bed.

Learn more about creating a child-friendly space.

Have you decided on the plants you want to grow?  Check out this article on creating your own garden signs.

Article By: Julia Parker-Dickerson and NGA Staff

Original Source:



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