I’m a big fan of all things garden, and from the very beginning, wanted my kids to share my fascination with the magic of growing things. Though Ian in particular is not a fan of plunging his fingers in the dirt, I did manage to introduce him back in his early years to a pint-sized garden that he could access on our deck (he was just three years old). It was a wonderful thing, and we used it for several years. The front board, which he painted, still hangs in my garden shed. I wouldn’t trade it for all the money in the world.
Building a raised bed on a deck is a super option for folks with shady yards, or a lack of space. Having it right there where you normally hang out anyway invites kids to explore the plants every day, and encourages more interaction and observation. And it’s beautiful. The main challenge, of course is to direct the water away from the deck boards. The last thing you want at the end of a growing season is a rotten deck. I managed this by installing a series of drainage holes with drinking straws and duct tape.
The frame of the garden is pretty simple: four boards nailed together, with no bottom. I used 12 inch boards, to give plants plenty of room to spread their roots. Ian decorated the front board with paint, and I applied a coat of polyurethane to protect it from the weather. We laid the frame onto the deck boards and dropped in landscape plastic, carefully folding and tucking it into all the corners and stapling it to the top of the garden frame. Once the plastic was installed, we used a screwdriver to poke small holes through the bottom of the plastic and in between the deck boards beneath (the holes were about 6 inches apart). You can use your fingers to feel where the gaps lie.
Then I pulled out the drinking straws. Ian and cut one end of them into four strips that could be bent back away from the straw’s center.
Once the straws were cut, Ian inserted them into the drainage holes.
The next step is to secure the straws with duct tape. I didn’t want any water to escape the garden except through the straws, whose length would ensure that the water was directed completely beneath the deck boards before dripping away.
Then came the dirt! I used an organic mix of compost and garden soil, which I picked up by the truckload. Ian helped me pour it in; with such a deep garden bed, we needed a lot of dirt!
When the soil was all in, I placed two stepping stones in the center of the bed to allow Ian a place to step inside without crushing any of the plant roots. I wanted him to be able to access his entire garden.
In the meantime, I used a jigsaw, garden stakes, paint, and poly to decorate some super fun garden markers that he could enjoy while he waited for his plants to come up. We gave these to him for Easter, along with baskets full of seeds and garden seedlings. The Easter bunny always gives nature-inspired gifts to the kids to help them anticipate and enjoy spring.
Then came the planting and growing! We photographed the progress of the garden all summer, taking notes on which plants were coming in, when they faded away, and when we harvested. Ian and I glued them all to poster board and wrote small summaries of the garden action at the bottom of each photo. He really enjoyed sharing his gardening adventures with his preschool that fall. I still have the poster boards too; they’re out there in the garden shed next to that front board.
With careful planning, a deck garden can be a wonderful way to introduce kids to growing things; we used this frame for two years on our deck before we moved away from that house. When we pulled away the frame, the deck still looked brand new. Our drainage system worked! If you don’t want to put the garden on the deck, the general frame works well anywhere. Just leave out the landscaping plastic, and put it directly on the ground. Drop some corrugated cardboard in the bottom before you add the dirt. The cardboard will suppress the grass and weeds naturally, and then eventually break down to become of a part of your rich garden.
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