Over the past few weeks, we’ve been transforming our yard into interactive garden spaces for growing food, attracting wildlife, swinging and visiting, enjoying campfires, and encouraging imagination. Getting kids outside is a huge challenge for our indoors-oriented society; my own kids typically prefer books, music, and Legos to the outdoors, and I am always looking for ways to make mother nature as tempting as the den couch. The secret is providing a variety of opportunities, including comfortable places to simply be.
Our yard is not huge, but it doesn’t take that much space to do all these things. And the benefits are huge: the kids have already spent hours on our rope swings, talking and laughing, sharing and making up stories, and creating swing-y type games. We’ve enjoyed long family nights around our small fire pit, and though the vegetable garden is my baby, they appreciate the symmetry of it – the artistic vision. Over the years, the kids have become proficient bird watchers, and can name varieties, largely due to the many bird feeders, water dishes, and small ponds we’ve built. Our gardens are our living room and classroom all in one! Allow me to give you a tour…. (And by the way, all the photos can be enlarged if you click on them….)
This tiny pond is just large enough to contain a water lily and provide habitat for frogs and a drink and a bath for the birds. It takes about an hour to put together, and the lily keeps it oxygenated. When you build a pond, you have to be sure to provide several ledges so that animals can enjoy the water without drowning. We put our in about three weeks ago, and though no frogs yet, the birds have loved bathing and drinking in it.
The Vegetable/Herb Garden
I love making creative vegetable gardens, and seldom make them in straight rows; instead I like the idea of a bigger image (see the photo at top). In this garden, I chose to honor my maternal line’s tradition of quilt-making. The design provides plenty of paths to keep heavy feet out of the growing area, makes me feel connected to my family, and provides a central art piece to the yard. It also is large enough to accommodate all that I want to grow, from vegetables to herbs to fruit. Though the veggie garden is considered Mom Domain (the kids aren’t really interested), they do know what I mean when I ask them to gather basil or thyme or tomatoes. They know from experience that carrots and potatoes are root vegetables, and that strawberries can be harvested in early summer, while pumpkins are ready in early fall. They also really like it. They appreciate the beauty behind the design. It makes me happy that they are proud of it.
The Rope Swings
The large tree that oversees our entire yard offered up two strong branches to hold up our rope swings. It took us a week of tossing up rocks attached to ropes before we secured the perfect hanging position, but it was so worth it! The family conversations we’ve had in those swings have been fabulous and silly and sometimes thoughtful, but always enriching. It’s different than sitting and looking at each other on the couch; we’re doing just enough activity to relax us, and it gives us permission to just hang out.
The Fire Pit
A gift from my brother, we have thoroughly enjoyed this tiny fire bowl! It’s portable and small, but easily supports a fire through the evenings. We enjoy it as a family, and our kids enjoy sharing it with their friends too.
The Harry Potter Garden and Fairy Village
Eva claimed a back corner of the yard that supported nothing but weeds. She wanted a magical hideaway where she could create an Herbology Fantasy, straight out the Harry Potter books. Blending the fantasy of the stories with the real-life application of choosing plants and building beds captured her imagination. She checked out dozens of books and read up on plants specific to the Potter series, both fictional and real. She carved out a small area for a fairy village, and constructed a tiny pond, miniature fairy garden, and small house made from a rotting tree root that was just waiting for us back there. And she designed her herb bed and wove its walls out of surrounding saplings.
Eva’s connection to her favorite stories like this is magical in its own right. I’ve enjoyed watching her experiment and create back there and committing herself to a larger, long-term vision. I’ve assisted her to help it move along more quickly, and it’s been a wonderful shared experience. I asked Eva to tell more about it herself. Here are her thoughts:
Tell me about the garden you built.
I’m planting a Harry Potter garden. I’m mainly growing herbs. To the back of the Harry Potter garden, there is a small village which is not completed yet; it has a miniature garden and a pond, and right now there is one house that is made of a gnarled tree root that we found. I made a fence and carpeted the area with cut-up grass. It’s a three-room wonder with an attic, a main room with a table and a bed, and the back room which is a food pantry. There’s also a gazebo out next to the house.
In the Harry Potter garden, I selected herbs that were mentioned in the Potter books or had some other magical properties. Here’s a good website that will help you get started. We went to the library and checked out books about herbs and magical plants. I checked the zones and took it from there. Some of herbs I planted are chamomile, zinnias, basil, oregano, bleeding heart, foxglove, and dill.
I made a woven fence for the raised Harry Potter bed to hold the dirt back. I thought at first that the idea of making a woven fence was kind of hopeless, because it does seem very hard when you have a garden as big as mine. But once I got started, I found that it goes quickly when you start putting sticks in the ground, especially when you’re working with soft dirt. It’s nice if you have someone helping you; my mom helped me weave my fence.
What do you like most about the project?
I enjoyed building the fairy village. I want to brew more potions, and to dry herbs. Doing these things makes me feel very excited and encourages me to do more research. It also makes me feel a part of the books. I’m making an army of Pigmy-Puffs (from the Harry Potter books), and I want to grow food to feed them all.
Why a magical garden?
I’m fascinated with magic and the Harry Potter books, and I am also a big fan of Practical Guide to Fairies, which has some really cool ideas for gardening.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I would like to tell all parents reading this blog that it is very fun to do this, and I would recommend you try it with your kids. Also, it helps if you have a bunch of snacks and a radio to keep you entertained.
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