Family-Friendly Gardening

How to make green spaces into play places and preserve the peonies in the process

CREATING A FAMILY GARDEN: MAGICAL OUTDOOR SPACES FOR ALL AGES

By Bunny Guinness

Abbeville Press, 168 pp., $29.95

'Creating a Family Garden" author Bunny Guinness designs gardens with children in mind. For anyone who as a youngster was scolded for trampling Mother's peonies, this book is a welcome surprise. Guinness urges that children be given a stake in designing outdoor spaces, and encourages adults to give special thought to child-friendly features in the garden.

In pages of lavish photographs and colorful plans, she explains how to build sand pits, tepees, playhouses, treehouses, and wading pools. She addresses safety issues and points out that gardens can provide one of the few safe areas for children to play in with less supervision.

For parents who have plenty of inventiveness but not a lot of time or money to build fancy structures, Guinness's book touches on the qualities in gardens that can enhance children's play. These include a sense of whimsy (think funny animal sculptures), privacy (secret hiding places), engineering skills (a chance to build things), smaller scale (child-sized garden implements) and creativity (imaginative games).

Creating a Family Garden: Magical Outdoor Spaces for All Children doesn't neglect an adult gardener's need for a space to entertain and relax in. Guinness also offers plans for outdoor dining areas, patios, and brick barbecues. While her focus is mostly on structures to enhance the garden, she does include a section on suggested plant types, and the photographs demonstrate her garden-design ingenuity. The elaborate plantings surrounding one of the tree houses is worthy of the Swiss Family Robinson.

Guinness suggests that children's attention be deflected from more delicate plants by creating a separate, secluded space where their activities can be camouflaged by groupings of hardy trees and shrubs.

Another tactic is to plant dwarf hedges in front of flower beds to shield tender plants from wayward balls. She emphasizes that the garden's features can change as the children grow up. A sand pit made with a plastic liner can metamorphose into an ornamental pool. A climbing structure can take on another life as a trellis or pergola.

Guinness unabashedly promotes the idea of family togetherness away from indoor toys and video games, which, she points out, "become discarded all too quickly."

The drawbacks to this inviting book are few, but worth mentioning. Because the author lives and designs gardens in England, some of the horticultural information will be less than helpful to North American gardeners. Some of the designs are too elaborate for kids who prefer untidy, eclectic, and improvised outdoor settings.

While Guinness's gardens are picturesque and evocative, most parents would find the work and cost involved in such gardens prohibitive.

So look and be inspired, but don't expect to copy her work plant for plant.

Family gardening gets a boost of a more realistic kind from a delightful how-to book, Kids Garden! The Anytime, Anyplace Guide to Sowing and Growing Fun. Lots of hands-on projects, experiments, horticultural information, and exploration fill the pages of this inexpensive, paperback book by Avery Hart and Paul Mantell.

This book has the virtue of being useful to apartment-bound city children, as well as kids with backyards. It explains how to start a windowsill herb or salad garden.

Cheerful line drawings encourage a sense of play and discovery about gardening, and the book's aim is clearly to instill in its young readers a lifelong appreciation for nature.

* April Austin reviews gardening books for the Monitor.

Other Garden Books

KIDS GARDEN!

By Avery Hart and Paul Mantell

Williamson Publishing

158 pp., $12.95

A PATCH OF EDEN: AMERICA'S INNER-CITY GARDENERS

By H. Patricia Hynes

Chelsea Green Publishing

185 pp., $18.95

THE GARDENS OF ELLEN BIDDLE SHIPMAN

By Judith B. Tankard

Sagapress, 230 pp., $39.95

ROSEMARY VEREY'S ENGLISH COUNTRY GARDENS

By Rosemary Verey

Henry Holt

192 pp., $36

PLANTS THAT MERIT ATTENTION VOL. II: SHRUBS

By Janet Meakin Poor and Nancy Peterson Brewster

Timber Press

363 pp., $59.95

THE GARDENER'S GUIDE TO GROWING IVIES

By Peter Q. Rose

Timber Press

160 pp., $29.95

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