Monday, April 27, 2009

Spring Containers with Kids

These girls are smiling, but you know what they're really thinking is, "Why is it always a marigold in a terra cotta pot?" Now, before you start sending me all sorts of nasty hate-mail, I'm challenging us to try to plant more inspiring combinations with our kids this year. Yes, marigolds are tough and relatively inexpensive, but there is a huge selection of annuals and forced bulbs available in the spring that don't really cost that much more. If the goal is to teach children to love gardening, then lets show them that there's more to gardening than a marigold in a six inch pot.
This might look pretty sophisticated but these are fairly ordinary plants, and you can easily replicate this pot. Maybe this urn isn't laying around in your shed, but who's going to notice the container when this is what you have planted inside?
  • Orange tulips at the center surrounded by yellow, red and white ranunculas
  • Purple viola or Johnny jump-ups at the base
  • Gold Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia num. 'Aurea') and variegated ivy (Hedera helix) trail between the violets.

For instant kid-appeal, it screams with a mix of bright, happy colors. But this kind of combination gives you the opportunity to talk about bulbs and how they work, identifying plant parts, noticing differences between each plant in the pot (like the petals or the leaves), and later re-planting the bulbs in the garden.

Here's another planted in a basket by my friend MaryBeth. Same concept: forced bulbs for height (orange tulips and hyacinth). Spring annuals include fushia stock, purple angelonia, orange callibrichoa, pansies, and variegated ivy in the foreground. Cut pussy willow stems are also stuck in here and there.

I love this one with the perennial in the center. This is 'Ivory Prince' Hellebore with the green blooms surrounded by pansies in antique shades of pastel yellow and mauve, and the seemingly requisite variegated ivy. This kind of combination gives us the opportunity to teach about hellebores and why we don't eat them, and more artsy concepts like texture and color.

I'm including this one because my sons like this guy (they say he's Ironman and who am I to argue). I think they might like the unfussiness of these planters, too. The crazy plant coming out of his head that looks like corydalis (although that would look great) is actually Cytisus x. spachianus or Scotch Broom. There's also a pot of clear yellow pansies in the back. This would look great stuffed with hens-n-chicks or sedums. My boys seem to love succulents.

I think, at its most basic, you'll have success if you let them choose their own pot and select the colors and types of plants. They'll love it because they planted it and hopefully take care of it. Who are we kidding? The spring containers featured above were not planted by children, but with a little guidance there's no reason why they couldn't be.

And who says it has to be JUST flowers? The little wheelbarrow above is planted with spring greens, herbs, pansies, and violas -- all edibles. Look around your yard and garage, or grandma and grandpa's for that matter. Is there an old wagon, bike, or tree stump that might make an interesting planter? I have a friend that planted sempervivens in pair of baby Crocs last year, (which have great drainage, by the way). Ask your kids for ideas.

Here are some things children can do when planting their spring container:

  • Let them fill the pot with potting soil.
  • Teach them how to remove the plant from its container and gently loosen the root ball.
  • Help them place their flowers into the potting soil and then add more potting soil.
  • Get a child size watering can so they can give their “garden” it’s first drink.
  • Teach your child about what a plant needs to be happy and the importance of not over-watering.

Remember: the best thing you might grow this year is a future gardener.


  1. Tracy (Grayslake, IL)April 28, 2009 at 7:32 AM

    I love these ideas! I am really inspired to let my 5 year old son plant his plants this year.

  2. Thank you! I'll try to keep adding more projects for kids. I hope to add lots of theme garden ideas in the next month, too.

  3. Little boys must think alike! My son was in the room while I was looking at your site today and was very interested in the "head of a man" planter too. Your site and different plant and flower arrangements have inspired us to get started on our spring planting for our front porch and deck. We hope to put in a little garden in our yard too....thank you for the ideas!

  4. I have been talking to Adam (my son) about getting his own pots and/or garden started this summer. I haven't gone shopping for our plants yet, but this has given me some great ideas... this is good stuff, Denise. I like it!

  5. I'm so happy to hear how many boys will be out in the garden this summer. I've noticed a real sense of ownership, with my boys especially, when I let them pick the plants. They always surprise me with their picks, too. Last year, my four year old wanted big orange hibiscus and warm colored annuals like yellows and reds. My three year old wanted everything blue, which is hard to do. If you ever met my kids, it wouldn't be hard to figure out whose pot is whose. I'm sure you'll have some fun observations of your own. Thank you for writing. Coem back and let us know how it went.

  6. Your beautiful arrangements have inspired me and my daughters to get out and garden! Your work is amazing!

  7. Thank you! But seriously, you can do this too. To get that kind of floral arrangement look, you need to make the pot full with lots of plants. In a typical 12 inch pot, I might put 6 to 8 plants (from a 4" or quart-size pot). Although I normally would not recommend this for any other type of gardening, you can really stuff a container of annuals. I also usually try to vary the plant heights. Tall one(s) in the center or towards the back, mid-size to smaller plants in front, then atleast two trailing plants (like an ivy). I'm so glad you left a comment. Please enter the giveaway, too.

  8. Thanks for the great ideas! I've never been one to plant or garden. Your blog is very helpful for getting me started.

  9. I appreciate this info as we have moved to a new area and it is so windy and dry here that I have decided to try container gardening. We have a lot of land but not fenced so quite a bit of deer and jack rabbits. I am going to try container gardening on a deck that is high off the ground - we'll include hanging ideas as well as try some wall growing ideas - I've checked out tons of books - bought all the seeds - just need to make sure I understand more the soil in pots challenge especially when most of our plantings will be edible

  10. Browsing animals are hard on a vegetable garden, even hanging ones since deer might munch at containers up to six feet off the ground. Considering the wildlife in your yard, I think your bread garden and pizza garden are great ideas (from your other post). Here's a short list of herbs that should be deer resistant: basil, borage, chives, dill, fennel, lavender, lemon balm, mint, oregano, parsley, rosemary, rue, sage, sorrel, and thyme. You might just have to share the salad garden though. Good luck!