Family Garden Ideas for Summer Fun

Kids gardening ideasIt’s almost summer. Which means that many of you are wistfully gazing out the window each morning, sipping your coffee and pondering important life questions like, “How in the world am I going to keep my kids out of trouble this summer?”
We’ve got your answer, and it’s called a garden! But planting one isn’t as simple as just throwing a bunch of seeds on the ground (which is why it’s the perfect family activity). It takes a little planning, some old-fashioned TLC, and a good dose of elbow grease.
For many of us, the acts of planting, watering and nurturing seedlings are a part of our precious childhood memories. We remember anxiously waiting for that first glimpse of life to peek out from under the dark, rich soil. We cherish the days spent with parents, siblings or neighbors, just watching our gardens grow.
Here are some ways you can carry on that tradition by creating your own family garden (and keeping your kids busy at the same time), with five family gardens to make your summer fun:

Snackable Garden

Even if your kids resist eating their vegetables, it’s a whole different ballgame when they can pick them fresh from the garden. Besides, everyone knows that homegrown produce tastes better! Some of the easiest vegetables to grow are carrots, tomatoes, radishes, potatoes and peas.
And speaking of peas, add a playful touch to your garden by constructing a bean pole teepee. Start with six to eight bamboo poles or thin wooden rods. They should be tall enough to accommodate the height of your child. Tie the ends of the pole together, then spread out the other ends in a circular teepee formation. Push the ends securely in the soil, and then plant garden peas or any other type of climbing vines around the base. As they grow and climb the poles, your kids will have a natural fort in which to play.

Butterfly Garden

Who doesn’t love saying hello to butterflies on a summer day? If you want to attract these little beauties, start by choosing a sunny, open area (they need space to fly). Be sure to refrain from using any pesticides, as they will rid your garden of butterflies, natural predators and other beneficial insects. In addition, consider the following:

  • Wind-protected areas work best. Trellises, short brick walls, fencing or dense shrubs can serve as wind barriers.
  • Clusters of plants (large groupings of shapes and colors) are easier for butterflies to find, as they have poor eyesight from a distance.
  • Since male butterflies naturally gather around watering holes, add a bowl of wet sand or create mud puddles nearby.
  • Butterflies love rotting fruit and tree sap. You can make your own concoction with a mixture of mashed rotten bananas, molasses, sugar, stale beer, fruit juices and water. It might sound nasty to us humans, but spread it over garden rocks and watch what happens!

Fruit Garden

Fruit gardens take patience and time, but the pay-off is worth it. Some fruits take more than one season to produce, so make sure you do your research before choosing your plants.
Strawberries are probably the most common in family gardens, mainly because they’re so versatile. You can plant them in containers, hanging baskets, window boxes and of course, flower beds. They do well in most soil types, but will do best in well-drained sandy loam or loam soils.
Blueberries are popular too, but require a bit more attention to soil. The good news is they have few pest problems, and are consistently productive.
If you’re really feeling daring, give tropical fruit a try! Even though the Midwest zone is not ideal, it’s possible to grow things like rose apples, dwarf common figs, star fruit or persimmon.

Water Garden

Most kids love water, so it only makes sense that they’ll love getting their hands wet with a water garden. The good news is that they don’t have to be big, expensive ponds or fancy waterfalls. In fact, you can create delightful water gardens in small containers (ideally 24”W x 18”D), made of plastic or clay … even wood, as long as you make them water tight with durable plastic liners or layers of sealant.
Cluster different container sizes and types together around your patio, or use them to accentuate decks, fences or seating areas. Choose plants that contrast in size and color for dramatic displays, including tall, spiky varieties and softer, marginal plants.
With water gardens, less is better. Too many plants crammed in one small space will cover up the water and defeat its purpose! And if you’re worried about mosquitoes, you can wash out the larvae by overfilling the container, or even add a few mosquito fish.

Vertical Garden

If you don’t have suitable garden space, or if you just want to liven up an empty wall or fence, then vertical gardens might be just the answer for you. This doesn’t mean that you’re just going to plant climbing vines, it means that you’re actually going to create a vertical space in which to grow plants.
Some of the best plants that work well with vertical gardens are vegetables (like the pole beans we already talked about), fruits like grapes or strawberries, and flowering plants like creeping phlox or morning glories.
If you’re working with a fence or existing vertical structure, a few small touches can create the perfect environment for your plants, like:

  • Adding string to eaves
  • Attaching eye-hooks to porches
  • Securing sections of chained link fence

If you don’t have an existing vertical structure, you can get started with a makeshift trellis (depending on how handy you are), or purchase vertical growing kits, grow bags or hanging planters.

Ready, set, go!

If you’re ready to get busy with a fun family garden, we’re here to help! Just contact us with questions or concerns. Don’t forget to take pictures and post them here … we’d love to see what you come up with!

Landscaping Solutions for 5 Common Challenges

Even though we wondered if it’d ever happen, Spring is finally – finally – here! Birds are chirping, flowers are actually blooming, and it’s the perfect time to get our green thumbs wrapped around some gardening tools, right?
It’s also time to face those common landscaping challenges that most homeowners deal with. You know … like camouflaging a bare, boring fence line or dealing with an unsightly utility box. Or maybe it’s figuring out what to do on the side of the house that gets too much sun … or the far back corner of your lot that doesn’t get enough.

Don’t worry, fearless landscaping enthusiasts – we’re here to help! Check out some of our solutions for five common landscaping challenges:

Fencing. Oh sure, fences are great to help keep pets safe or define your property, but how can you spice them up or disguise them from looking so, well … fence-like?
When planning your landscaping design in front of a fence (or any other angular, man-made structures), remember that Mother Nature doesn’t do straight lines. She does natural, gentle curves. So create your flower and plant beds accordingly. This will bring an organic feel to your manufactured elements.
First, capitalize on the vertical space a fence creates by planting taller shrubs right in front of the structure. This will help it blend in and seem more natural. Next, layer medium-sized plants to create a smooth transition for the eye. Finally, plant smaller perennial plants or decorative grasses to go in the very front.

Eyesores. Who hasn’t stared at an air-conditioning unit, propane tank or electrical box and thought, “Maybe I’ll just plant huge shrubs around the whole thing to cover it up?” Resist, resist, resist! Because the more you try to hide it, the more obvious it will be.
Instead, consider planting clusters of decorative plants with various textures in front of the box or unit, but then trailing them off to the side. Just beyond your clusters (and further away from your box or unit), add a powerful punch with a colorful, bold plant. This will create a dramatic focal point, pulling attention away from the eyesore.
If you like the idea of using fence panels as decorative screens, keep in mind that air-conditioners need additional open space around them for proper circulation as well as future maintenance. Keeping that in mind, panels can be used in creative ways that add style and color while serving as effective cover-ups. Hint: it helps to repeat the same panel elements in other parts of your yard to carry out the design theme thoroughly.
And remember: before you dig around any type of utility box, call your area utility locating service so they can come out and mark buried lines.

Shady Areas. Not all shade is created equal. That’s why you’ll need to first determine the exact level of shade in your project spot. Does your space get a few hours of sunlight each day (light shade), just a little direct sunlight (medium shade), or no direct sun at all (deep shade)? Use this information to choose the most compatible plants.
You’ll also need to evaluate what is causing the shade. In other words, is there anything you can do about it? If the shade is primarily due to mature trees, then you might be able to prune back branches in order to increase your sunlight. If pruning isn’t a possibility, then you’ll have to carefully choose species that thrive in little light.
On the other hand, if you are dealing with dense woodlands or obstructive buildings and your space is always in deep shade, then you’ll need to consider other options. You can: leave the area unplanted altogether; spread mulches or rocks instead of plants; or simply showcase decorative potted plants that can be easily rotated into the sun as needed.
Shaded areas are also great places to add hardscape elements like stone walkways or patios, sitting areas, pavers or fencing.

Full Sun. Just as you should assess the level of shade in certain areas, you’ll want to track how much sunlight other areas get, as well as the time of day it gets it. Midday sun exposure is more intense than morning or late afternoon sun, and will be less forgiving on your plants. By definition, your space is in full sun if it’s getting six or more hours of sunlight every day.
For quick solutions, consider adding shade sails, which are triangular shaped pieces of UV resistant cloth, available in a variety of sizes and colors. Retractable awnings and pergolas (prefabricated or custom) are other options that can not only provide relief from the sun, but can serve as attractive design elements, making your outdoor living space more enjoyable.
In terms of plants, sunny areas often contain dry soil. Before you plant, increase the chances of plant survival by enriching the soil with a peat moss and fertilizer combination. Next, select low-maintenance, drought-tolerant plants for your full sun areas that have adapted to such conditions.

Decks or Patios. One of the easiest (and quickest) ways to transform your outdoor living space is through container gardening on your deck or patio. First, pack various sized containers with showy, easy-care annuals and cluster them in groups to add dimension and interest. Consider choosing a color theme too, which can help compliment the style of your deck, house or outdoor furniture.
If low-maintenance is your thing, select plants that require less watering and care. Succulents, for example, not only fit that bill, but they tend to be less problematic when it comes to pests or disease. Available in a wide variety of shapes, textures and colors, they can provide unexpected color and charm.
Containers filled with taller trees, bushes or grasses are also great solutions for patio or deck corners and edges, as they add definition and even privacy while creating a feeling of seclusion and intimacy. Just be sure to place heavier containers in areas that can bear the weight. Hint: containers with rollers will make moving heavier plants much easier on the back!

Spring is an exciting time to be outdoors! But when it comes to lawn and garden projects, it can also be overwhelming. If you have any questions about your own landscaping challenges, please contact us! We’d love to help.