Monday 26 March 2012

Small Garden Spaces for Kids – Part 1

Welcome to part 1 of my first series – Small Garden Spaces for Kids. Our backyard is small by the standards of our city: 56 square m / 600 square feet. A fair proportion of our garden is devoted to grass and a paved path where the kids run around and ride their bikes – and we will never change that. To make the best use of the little remaining space Chris and I have created four small child-friendly garden spaces. I am featuring each of these over the next four days.

Laneway garden

    Welcome to laneway garden where the fairies come to sit and chat. We created laneway garden in a rarely used space – the passage down the side of our house. It is fairly simple – a low table built out of old building materials that were lying around, and excess pot plants that were cluttering up the main garden. It measures 50 x 150 cm (1.6 x 5 feet).

    This is a space where we try to use what we already have and often grow plant cuttings from our neighbourhood.The garden is a mix of plants and sculptures – a ceramic bird, a lizard climbing the wall, a small castle meant for a fish tank and two hooks on the wall for the kids to hang whatever they fancy.

    Laneway garden has become a special hang-out for fairies, they come to visit often and we set up fairy tents for shelter and leave passionfruits for them to sit on.

    Cakey made a small tent out of sticks for the fairies and gave them passionfruits as seats

    Discarded cordylines from a dumpster down the street salvaged and replanted in an old 1950s bathroom basin - also salvaged from a dumpster down the street.

    If you have an unused outdoor area, here are a few ideas and tips to turn it into a special garden space:
    1. Use pebbles and smooth stones – and vary the sizes and colours. Kids love to play with their different size and textures. Try coupling tiny pebbles around tiny plants and even in small pots you can create little worlds. Big fat stones suit large-leaved plants and are good for making miniature mountains and stepping stone paths.
    2. Add some whimsy by including some toy fairies or dinsosaurs or whatever your kids like. I move our fairies around when the kids aren't looking!
    3. Include some sticks or natural objects for kids to build structures.
    4. Think vertically to maximize use of the space: plant climbers, hang plants on hooks, or chalk a mural up the wall.
    5. Laneways are often difficult to grow plants in because they can be dark and shady except for blasting midday sun. Some forgiving plants include agave, clivia, box, canna, yucca, zygocactus. If need be, bring frost-sensitive plants in pots inside for winter.
    6. Also, your plants will likely be in pots, so make sure you add mulch and some water crystals or wetting agent to your potting mix (in my experience, the kids very much enjoy helping out with this task). Go for plants that are hard to kill even if the pots dry out, and that won't mind little hands ripping off flowers and leaves, such as mint, fishbone fern (Nephrolepis), ivy, and succulents (go for spineless varieties such as Kalanchoe, hen and chickens (Echeveria), jade plant (Crassula), sempervivum and some aloe varieties).
    7. Learn which plants in your garden or neighbourhood will grow easily from cuttings so the kids can pick them and simply stick them into pots in their tiny garden: some reasonably sure-fire bets are: geraniums, tradescantia, blue ginger (Dichorisandra), and pretty much any succulents.
    8. If it is a sunny spot plant some pretty annual flowers for the kids to pick. The more flowers they pick, the bushier and more prolific their flowering will be.
      Fairies in their aloe garden
      Some magical links to inspire you:
      To learn more about gardening in small spaces have a look at Really Small Gardens by Jill Billington – this book is great especially if you live in a cool climate.

      Next I am featuring our edible garden – a place to discover that fruit and veg don't grow in the supermarket!

      I hope you have enjoyed our garden series. If you like it, you can follow along through our facebook page or subscribe via email or RSS.
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        1. I loved this Ali. You have really inspired me to add things to my little garden in my window sill. Loveit!

        2. Ohhhh I would have loved that growing up. We are blessed with a large garden but I'm going to have a fairy hollow just for T in the part that we are going to start clearing next year.

          1. I saw a photo of your garden on your blog - so much space. It is going to be great to see it unfold and I think a fairy hollow would be a hit with T.

        3. Oh wow! I love this garden, this series, and the pics are AMAZING! So excited to see the next garden :)

        4. Gosh, this is awesome. I'll be making this tomorrow with my son! Can't wait to see the other posts!

          1. Thanks Yelena, I would love to see what you make with your son. I hope you like the other posts too.

        5. Amazing, Ali!!! This such an inspiration! And I am totally jealous of all the lush, green foliage in your backyard. We can't manage to keep our yard very lush here in Central TX.

          It's so neat to see how you have used your small space and portioned it out for small play spaces for the kids. We have been doing something similar in our backyard, but not as beautiful as your's by a long stretch. ;)

          A fairy garden has been on my to do list forever.

          1. Thanks so much Rebekah. We are lucky with the weather plus this summer has been so wet that everything is incredibly green. Some of our plants aren't doing too well because it is too wet!!

            I would imagine Central Texas must be difficult - being hot in summer and cold in winter - doesn't make it easy to find plants that can cope with both.

        6. Btw, how did you attach the hooks and decorative head to the brick?

          1. We have a masonry drill which we used to drill holes into the brick, we then plug the holes and screw in some long screws for the hooks and the head.... I don't actually do any of this I watch Chris do it!!

        7. Gorgeous post!! We only have a small garden too and we have LOTS of plants in containers cone vegetable growing time.. and we use our front garden too - much the amusement of our neighbours - as it gets far more light!

          Thank you for including the Terrarium :-)


        8. What a wonderful post, it's such a magical space. Thanks for sharing x

        9. Hi there,
          My name is Amy Greenberg and I am the co-founder of a website called The Grandparents Guide. You can check us out at I love some of the gardening ideas that you have posted. I would love to use a few of the ideas/images. We would create a direct link to your website, adding you to our FB page and possibly our newsletter, offering you the opportunity to get some exposure from our viewers.
          It would be fantastic if in return, you could let some of your viewers know about us by highlighting us in some way.
          You can email me at

          Please let me know if this sounds interesting to you.
          Amy Greenberg
          Co Founder
          The Grandparents Guide

        10. What a fun series, Ali. Thanks for sharing a link with me. I'll definitely be sending folks in this direction for garden projects with kids. BTW, I love the tropical foliage -- it's a beautiful backdrop for your garden.

        11. What a fun series, Ali. Thanks for sharing a link with me. I'll definitely be sending folks in this direction for garden projects with kids. BTW, I love the tropical foliage -- it's a beautiful backdrop for your garden.

        12. Fabulous ideas and very inspiring! We are buying a lovely house, but I must admit, I had a bit of a downer on the tiny garden, worried my 3 year old would be bored with it, but now I am excited about it! Thank you x


        I would love it if you would leave me a comment.