Backyard Fun With Kids and Plants

Backyard Fun With Kids and Plants

The Cape beaches are great for children, but there are times when it’s even better to be able to make our fun in our own backyards. There are several ways to have a #gardengetaway with kids; here are some suggestions for projects that children and adults enjoy.

Plant fall crops in the vegetable garden.

It’s time to plant fall crops where you summer vegetables have finished. Carrots, beets, chard, radishes, and kale can all be planted now from seed.

In August you can still plant some edible crops with kids. Radishes and carrots are two of the best fall crops. Radishes grow quickly, and carrot seeds sown now will produce carrots ready for pulling in October and into December. Just remember to space the seeds out – plant carrot and radish seeds 6 inches apart.

Float flowers in a fresh mandala.

Fill a pot without holes in the bottom, or large non-breakable bowls, with fresh water. Gather assorted flowers and colorful leaves to create designs that float on top of the water. Some people like to make these symmetrical and circular, similar to a mandala. Others go for abstract and free-floating designs. Hint: give each child their own container so that everyone can make the design that pleases them most.

Flower mandalas can be fun to create and they can last a few days, especially if they aren’t in full sun. If you have very small children, create these in shallow bowls or pans. Older kids may like to make one in a large pot or even in a birdbath. If possible, pick the flowers with one inch stems that will hang into water.

Make stick houses, for the kids, imaginary friends or nature spirits.

Gather sticks and even some vines to create shelters and club houses. Bittersweet vine is a good one to use, but be sure to avoid poison ivy, which often grows in the same places. (Examine any wooded areas carefully for poison ivy before you let the children hunt for sticks.) You can put longer branches together teepee style, and either cover the outside with freshly cut branches with leaves, or with cloth. Next spring, plant moonflower vines on such twig teepees for living coverage.

These two twig houses were made some years ago by Roberta Clark and C.L. Fornari, at the master gardener demonstration gardens at the fair grounds. The teepee style, on the left, was made with branches and twine. The rounded house on the right was a combination of sticks and Smilex (aka greenbrier) roots. Once a framework is created and is solid, you can keep adding branches for a few years to come. Know that working with freshly cut, thin branches is easier than using those that are already dry and brittle.
Shorter sticks can be used to create an “Eeyore house,” named after the pessimistic donkey in the Winnie The Pooh books. Such stick houses can be made for imaginary or real animals. Some children enjoy decorating the outsides with rocks, or creating soft “beds” of leaves or pine needles on the inside.
Tiny twigs and sticks can be used to make houses for fairies, elves, or nature spirits. It’s the fun of putting found materials together, and creating the story about who will live there, and how delighted they will be when they discover this dwelling that keeps kids entertained.

Create Flower Art

If you have flowers, you have the equivalent of a new box of crayons! Pick flowers, or let the kids loose in your garden to gather them. Don’t worry about the stems – just cut off the blossoms and gather in a basket. (By the way…if you have annuals such as dahlias, zinnias and marigolds, this will make them produce more flowers into the fall.) These flowers can be used to decorate outdoor furniture, or create designs on decks or the lawn.

If you have tall zinnias, the flowers are perfect for creating colorful projects.
Once the flowers are picked, sort them according to color. Now it’s like having a new package of markers or crayons!
Flower power creations can evolve as they are made. There are no right or wrong ways to make flower art! Let the kids arrange them according to their own sensibilities. These arrangements will look good for several days if made on a shady lawn, but they might dry up within two or three days in hot, sunny areas. Once dry, they will be removed when the lawn is mowed.
Marigold flowers last for days after picking. Let the kids create designs on outdoor furniture that isn’t upholstered. (Flowers can stain cloth.)

Give away bouquets

Cut random flowers from your garden and make fresh bouquets in glass bottles and jars. Deliver a bouquet to a neighbor, family member or friend who needs a smile. Better yet, give them to random checkout clerks in stores, bankers, or librarians. A fresh bouquet, given for no reason at all, is truly a random act of kindness.

Recycle old jars into vases for give-away bouquets.

Take the leaf stack challenge

Take the Plantrama #leafstackchallenge! Collect a variety of leaves in assorted sizes and colors and stack them in a way that’s pleasing to you. Some families make this into a competition, where everyone creates a leaf stack. Take photos and post them with the hashtag, or have them printed on a calendar, coffee mugs or plates. These days you can have a photo printed on practically anything. If that is your intention, pass out blank white paper or cardboard and have everyone make their leaf stack on that plain background. If you make leafstacks during a family gathering or party, you might consider putting them all in a book for those who participated as a way to remember the day.

A leaf stack made on a plain light background can be printed nicely on a variety of objects, including on calendars.
You can create leafstacks anywhere on your property.

Plant a pumpkin head

Fall is just around the corner. As I gaze at a rack of dracaena “spikes” that are on sale at the end of the summer, I’m thinking that they’d be perfect for “hair” when planted in a pumpkin. Other plants can be used for living pumpkin head hair as well.

Carve a hole in the top of a pumpkin and stick the spikes right in! These would make great porch decorations for the fall, and the plants won’t eve require much water since the inside of a pumpkin is so moist. If you are going to carve the pumpkin, find a small plastic pot that fits in the top and plant the spikes in potting soil. You can then illuminate the carved pumpkin with a digital tea light, and put the pot of hair in after the light is switched on.

Whenever you spend time in the yard and garden, be tick smart! Learn to protect yourself from tick bites and always examine kids after they’ve been outdoors. Read more about ticks and prevention here.

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