Ear to the Ground: The Insider Dirt to Gardening in Upstate NY

Adding Kid-Pizzazz to Your Garden

by cathym on July 4, 2018

by Valerie Shaw

Goldfish in galvanized tub. Photo courtesy Flickr: Brianna Privett

If your garden is anything like mine, things are finally starting to kick in, some seeds need to be replanted, and there are a few last-minute plants to pick up at the nursery. The flowers are beginning to fill out, the tomatoes are getting unruly, and the children are eyeing the ripening raspberries with voracious patience. School is finished, and with those carefree summer days will come a whole chorus of “I’m bored!! ”Now’s the time to start thinking about a whole other level of gardening fun: the kid projects!

The awesome thing about children is this: they have spectacular imaginations. Your garden can become a wonderland with just a few simple activities, and they can be scaled to whatever budget you have at hand. Here are a few suggestions of projects I’ve found to be successful in our decade-long child wrangling.

Water. It bears repeating: kids love water. Kids also love fish and frogs. One of the easiest things to create in your garden is a pond. This can be a full on, fiberglass insert style pond, a dug pond with liner, or something as low-key as a storage tote filled with water. Nab some fun water plants at your garden center (we like the water hyacinths as they grow very quickly), have the kids clean up some nice rocks for the bottom, a flower pot for the fish to hide in, and voila, a mini-pond! We bought a handful of feeder goldfish from Walmart for 13 cents each. One, named Fred, has grown immensely, overwintering in our basement. We also have an overgrown puddle pond that fills with frogs in the spring, and the kids spend hours there, catching and releasing froggy pals. That was an hour of digging to make an existing puddle much deeper and bigger, and now it’s a star kid attraction whenever friends come over. Mosquitoes are controlled with fish and lawn care.

A Bridge. This can be over a stream, a dry bed of stones, or, just plunked somewhere interesting in your garden. Ours is a wide plank with two big flat stones on either end, laid in the middle of a very large mint bed. The mint grows up around it, making a waving sea of fragrant green. Everyone, even the family cat, uses this bridge. People sit on it, daydream, chew peppermint, and watch bumblebees. It’s part of the running adventures, and every sword fight must end up on this bridge. Again, so simple, but somehow, bursting with inspiration.

Concrete Projects. We have really enjoyed making stepping stones from the kits found at craft stores. My son, in particular, loved improvising with his, and instead of all the pretty glass bits, his is decorated with nuts and bolts and various metal items. We’ve also made leaf impression stones from large squash leaves. It’s really easy, and kids love to see the results. For older kids, these projects could even lead to making some summer cash! You can find directions online, and all it takes is a quick trip to the hardware store, some big leaves, and a little patience. 

Branch Teepees. These are a definite point of interest in our garden! All it takes are zip ties and plenty of branches or small saplings. Kids like helping to weave the branches in and out. We often see our teepees decorated with picked flowers, bead chains or colorful yarn. Sometimes the kids hang windchimes in them. Just a tip: make sure you make the door opening wide enough to admit a lawn mower, or the grass will take over in your teepee. Last year we surrounded them with scarlet runner beans and flowers; this year, we have mini pumpkins planted that will hopefully climb the teepee and hang their fun orange orbs down for some festive teepee décor.

Wind Chimes, Spinners or Flags. Watching the wind play with a creation is something kids enjoy. You can make wind chimes from many easy to find items—shells from the lake, for example. One fun design uses leaves or flowers preserved in clear contact or wax paper, and hung amongst little jingle bells. Flags can be made from scraps of fabric, either purchased or repurposed. Acrylic paints will bond to fabric just as well as more expensive fabric paints. Make an easy flag banner by adhering fabric triangles to a thick ribbon. You can either sew them on or use staples or hot glue. No-sew methods may not be as durable, but children appreciate the joy of just doing a thing almost as much as having the project last a long time, and something like a banner can happily decorate a bedroom just the same as your sunflower bed.


Before I leave you to your garden adventures, I have a kid- and pet-friendly treasure to share. If your yard, like mine, is chock full of mosquitoes who are taking the fun out of the outdoors, I’ve discovered a garlic-based product, Mosquito Barrier, that truly does work. As someone who experienced the West Nile virus last summer, I push hard for mosquito control, and I especially look for nontoxic, nonchemical formulas. Our kids usually wear lightweight, long-sleeved clothing in the evenings. And don’t forget to check your house screens for holes.


“Remember that children, marriages,
and flower gardens reflect the kind of care they get.”

—H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

 Care dearly, my friends!


Valerie Shaw is a mom, writer, and gardening addict who lives in West Monroe, NY, with her family, some goats, and too many ducks.

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