Creating a kid-friendly garden

Portland, Oregon springtime, with its explosion of color after months of gray drizzle, gets me in a digging mood. I’m a gardening lover and a plant geek, and I have found it difficult to balance my craving for a backyard paradise with my kids’ desire for a play structure. I’ve struck a decent compromise (I think) by leaving a decent amount of grass and integrating the following features into my garden; good for beauty and play:

  • Stepping stone paths in my beds, which my son and his friends creep through (be sure to border them with soft plants)
  • A few sturdy boulders in strategic spots for climbing and jumping
  • A shallow, trickling fountain (kid magnet, not deep enough to pose a drowning threat)
  • A gravel pathway for digging
  • Bird feeders, squirrel feeders, lots of hummingbird- and butterfly-friendly flowers
  • A small area they get to plant themselves
  • Space for at least two or three monstrous sunflowers
  • Snackables: strawberries, cherry tomatoes, snap peas…

How do your make your backyard a "playable" for kids and adults? Any suggestions for playscape that’s fun but doesn’t dominate the yard?

More: Best of Parent Hacks: Gardening with kids


  1. Kat says

    Those are amazing ideas that any kid would love, and I thank you for sharing.

    I cut steps into a slope on my side yard and leaned a plastic slide on the steps. My 6yo loves it. The slide was free, something a neighbor set out on the curb for trash day.

    6yo also loves to dig. A child-sized shovel – real, not plastic – and a digging-friendly area of the yard can keep him busy for eons.

  2. Jill says

    1. I bordered my patio area with all herbs. Everything I’ve planted near the play space is edible.
    2. I’ve been thru lists of poisonous plants and checked my yard to be sure I have none.
    3. Digging is allowed in the compost pile. We encourage it!
    4. Most of our yard is wild, but we mowed a pathway through it so they can go “hiking”. I can hear but not see them, and they feel miles away. We check the path regularly for briars and poison ivy.
    5. I’ve challenged other people’s dogs to find any gaps in my fence. If they can’t get out, neither can children. Additionally my gate locks from the outside.

  3. Betsy says

    This is such a great thread! So far we have a vegetable garden and a great big grassy space and not much else. Our back yard is bordered by thick hedges and fencing, so while the cats can slide through, I think we’re safe on kiddos. I can’t wait to put some of these suggestions to use as we grow with our yard! Long ago I got a garden tool set that had mini-tools (for bonsai?) they’re just right-sized for our little one.

  4. says

    As a family project, we made a fairy garden for our daughter. We bordered a space with rocks and then planted leafy, colorful, and climbing plants-akebia, lady’s mantle, ferns, bleeding hearts, etc. We even built some fairy houses out of twigs. It’s not too large for her to take care of and she can enjoy sitting beside it and studing the flowers, and of course, looking for fairies!

  5. says

    oh, such beautiful ideas! one day we’d like a garden like all of these. just now we have a sweet little deck garden. the hanging baskets have lots of flowers, but all of the planters are edible plants, including the flowers. our bigger child loves to help with planting, watering, harvesting, and has a little space beside the plants to play. she loves to stand on the heavy planter box-edge and chat over the rail with neighbours.

  6. Susan says

    Great ideas here. I am planning a garden and have an 8 mo old. Are there any books out there on kid safe plants? Here’s another idea for children and gardens- my dad gave my sister and I a back hoe and dump truck with real moving parts for lifting dirt putting it in the dump truck, driving it somewhere and then dumping it. They were made by Tonka Toys out of metal. They were well built and sturdy, I wonder if they still make them…

  7. says

    I really like the sunflower idea. My daughter really wants some this year. I also go for the different kind rule: grows underground, grows on a plant, leafy and flower to teach my daughter about different kind of plants and their uses.

    Heidi Ahrens