Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Making Plant Choices that are Child-Friendly and Fun

Now that the delightfully warm weather has arrived, your family is likely spending lots of time outdoors. If you're looking to add some beautiful plants to your landscape, here are some ideas that will be fun for everyone, and especially for children!

1. Line the edges of your open play areas with “sensory plant” beds, for a pleasant surprise when children are chasing an errant ball. In a sunny area, an herb border of Lavender, Rosemary, and Bee Balm (Monarda) with a groundcover of Chamomile and Wooly Thyme releases waves of fragrance when touched, and creates a wonderful opportunity for a daily “scratch and sniff’ tour. Soft-leafed plants such as Hair Grass (Stipa tennuissima) are fun to touch or simply watch the wind blow through, and Lamb’s Ears (Stachys byzantina) are one of the softest plants around!

2. Add edible ornamentals to your existing landscape beds. Blueberry shrubs are always a hit with kids, and have gorgeous orange and red fall leaf color. Dwarf fruit trees can also be added to ornamental borders, and stay small enough for children to help pick. There are even columnar Apple varieties that can be container grown!

3. Add bird-friendly plants. Watching songbirds dart in and out of your garden while serenading you is a delight for the whole family. The added benefit of having them help with garden maintenance by eating pest insects and weed seeds means more play or hammock time for you too! Native plants are a great way to attract birds, and many are quite beautiful too. Some of my favorites are Evergreen Huckleberry (Vaccinium ovatum) and Serviceberry (Amelachier alnifolia) which produce some of the tastiest berries you’ll ever eat… that is, if you get to them before the birds do!

4. Many flowering plants also attract pollinators and other beneficial insects to your garden. Ladybugs, lacewings, and black beetles will also lower your maintenance time by eating pest insects. It can be fascinating to watch bees gather nectar and pollen, and also provides a way for children to understand the value of pollinators to our food supply. Here’s some hints on how to “bee safe”:
a. Don’t get between a bee and its lunch!
b. Don’t wear dark colors or you might look like a bear!
c. If a bee hovers in front of you, stand still or back up slowly while it figures out that you are not a flower!

5. Add a treasure trove filled with one of nature’s most lovable creatures... who will also turn your food scraps to "black gold" for your garden....of course I am talking about a worm bin! For more info on one of my personal favorite topics, read my entry at http://jrnatureexplorers.blogspot.com/2008/12/make-home-for-natures-best-recyclers.html.

Link6. Send your child to a Jr. Nature Explorer camp to experience days of fun in a wonderful child-friendly environment at Magnuson Park! At the end of each day when they share what they’ve learned and seen with you, watch closely to see what makes their eyes light up the most. Then add those plants or features to your own garden. The camps are filling up fast but most still have a few spots available. For the full schedule and registration details, visit http://jrnatureexplorers.blogspot.com.