Haag: design a garden for children? Give it a theme! | Home & Garden


Many of today’s youth lack a connection to nature or an interest in gardening or growing their own food. One of the best ways to get people excited about gardening is to create a themed garden.

A child’s hands-on, experiential learning style can be encouraged in a themed garden, especially if it’s a garden that they help create. Inspiration for the garden theme can come from many things: a favorite food, a color or an animal; a story – even a historical event! The possibilities are endless and the outcome is most exciting when the kids choose.

A child’s dream garden may not match the vision of your ideal adult garden. With charming plants, unusual textures and a tremendous variety of materials, gardens for young minds should stimulate the imagination while remaining safe and above all fun! When properly designed, it will encourage discovery, exploration, and independence—sometimes that means digging in the ground.

Designed with children in mind, this will be a garden they can be proud to call their own and where new discoveries are made every day. And most importantly, their garden should inspire a love of nature that grows into a lifelong respect for the environment.

When designing a garden for children, remember to consider scale: consider the garden child-sized, imitating little hands and scurrying feet. Adult-sized attractions can lose their appeal if they are difficult to see, maneuver, or manipulate. Use this thought as a guide: Is it uncomfortable for an adult? If so, then it’s probably kid-friendly!

Again, safety is a priority, raise a child’s awareness of the dangers associated with poisonous plants and avoid having them around if possible. Reevaluate common plant choices when planning the garden. Make sure they are safe to handle and contain low levels of toxic compounds. Children explore with all five senses and may be more exposed than adults to oils or plant secretions.

If your outdoor space doesn’t allow for a garden, take the ideas and miniaturize them into a container or series of containers – perfect for a patio. Or even bring it indoors with crockery gardens or terrariums. Giving kids a space to interact with plants and grow something is empowering.


Moo, oink, neigh. While plants don’t make these sounds, some plants have animal names or may even resemble an animal, like a bird of paradise. To stimulate the imagination, add plants like lamb’s ear, snapdragon, tiger lily or catnip to your animal nursery.

learning garden

An educational theme can make learning more interesting for young minds. An alphabet garden can help teach children ABCs in a fun way; include plants to cover all 26 letters of the alphabet. A rainbow or painter’s palette garden can teach colors and different shades.

Garden of Heritage

Heritage gardens allow us to recreate the stories of our ancestors and pass them on to our children and grandchildren. Plant some family heirlooms or introduce your child to a different culture and the crops they grow.

Brittnay Haag, Horticulture Educator, University of Illinois Extension

ABOUT EXPANSION: Illinois Extension leads public affairs for the University of Illinois by translating research into action plans that enable Illinois families, businesses, and community leaders to solve problems, make informed decisions, and adapt to change and opportunity.


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