Theme gardens are a fun way for kids to start planting

Tuesday, June 19, 2007 | 2:00 p.m. CDT; updated 5:53 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Would you like to stimulate your child’s interest in gardening? Consider involving your child in planning and planting a theme garden.

Children love having their own gardens that they can further personalize with a theme. Most children love animals, so why not consider planting an animal theme garden?

Here are a few suggestions:

n Wild animal garden — Plants that could be put in this garden could include tiger lilies, elephant ears, tiger roses, baby bear pumpkins, snapdragons, tiger eyes marigold and leopard lily. Consider accessorizing it with ceramic “wild” animals or maybe your child will want to make figurines of clay and paint them.

n Farm animals garden — Appropriate plants for this garden could be goat’s beard, cowslip, lamb’s ear, hens and chicks, foxtail lily, cockscomb, ox-eye daisy, pig weed, white swan echinacea and gooseneck loosestrife. Placing toy farm animals or tractors throughout the garden would also be a fun thing to do.

n Dog and cat garden — Consider dog-tooth lily, cattails, pussy willow, catnip, cat mint and hound’s tongue for this site. Placing some dog biscuits made of clay or garden sculptures of a cat or dog would be a nice addition to this garden. You could also try your hand at topiary.

n Birds and bugs garden — Plants for this garden could include cardinal flower, spider flower, spiderwort, larkspur, cockscomb, hens and chicks, butterfly weed, peacock hybrid flowering kale, magpie columbine, dwarf blue butterfly delphinium, red robin cherry tomatoes and Italian bugloss. Placing plastic bugs or painting rocks to look like bugs or birds would be a nice addition to this garden.

In keeping with an animal-type theme you might also consider planting a butterfly garden. Children are often fascinated by butterflies and they have even been referred to as “floating flowers.” Since children are so interested in them it would be natural to grow the plants and flowers that attract, feed and host these beautiful creatures in your child’s garden.

There are two types of plants to consider when planting a butterfly garden. Those are the host plant (plants eaten by larva/caterpillars) and the nectar plants (for the butterflies to eat). It’s important to have the host plants mixed in or nearby so the butterflies can lay their eggs.

Butterfly host plants are milkweed, nettle, the parsley family (dill, carrots, parsnips, etc.), plantain, roses, violets, sedum, spirea, lilacs, aspen, birch, snapdragons, thistles, plums, cherries and many others.

For butterfly nectar plants, some are perennials, some are annuals and some may be considered weeds.

The perennials include yarrow, allium, asters, bee balm, black-eyed Susan, butterfly bush, columbine, Indian paintbrush, clematis, coreopsis, daisies and mums, coneflowers, cat mint, phlox, sedum, lavender, oregano and mints. The annuals include marigolds, zinnias, impatiens, cleome, cosmos, alyssum, ageratum, snapdragons, salvia and petunias.

Butterflies also need a source of water. A shallow pan with a small amount of water and a flat rock where the butterflies can walk down to the water is a good idea. Be sure to keep the pan stocked with water as they will come to rely on this source. Be sure to not spray insecticides in your butterfly garden as this may kill them.

You can have this as a special area of your garden or incorporate the flowers and plants that attract the butterflies throughout the garden bed. You and your children can do whatever is most attractive and fun.

Have fun picking out the seeds and plants for whatever theme garden you and your children decide upon.

Barbara Michael has been a Master Gardener since 1993, and she served as the Master Garden liaison to the Community Garden Coalition as well as serving on its board. She enjoys container gardening and houseplants. She can be reached at

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