Digging through photos recently, I came across these two of a children’s garden I started at the Clinton Community Garden years ago. The space I had to work with was odd-shaped and a bit inhospitable at first glance. What looks like an iron fence in the top photo, for instance, is actually a double gate. Though no longer used by the time I was making the garden, the possibility always hung in the air that maybe one day we would need to open it, so, just in case, my fellow gardeners urged me not to put anything too permanent there. Since most of the spot was already shaded by a spruce tree, the sunny area against the gate was really the best place to grow the flowers, herbs, and veggies that would create an inviting garden bed for young gardeners.
I was frustrated. It had taken a long time for gardeners to agree to allocate space for a children’s garden. Now we had it but what to do with it? With the help of my then young kids and their friends, I started to picture how it might work: little gardens within a garden with pathways for small feet to navigate and a rock garden that might be inhabited by little toy animals we would make out of clay or shells or pinecones.
My son was in third grade and had the mixed blessing of going to school a block away from the garden. Walking home from school, we ended up stopping in the garden much more often than he would have liked, but he was fairly forgiving of me if we didn’t stay too long. To my surprise, he agreed to build the rock garden with me. It was what I’d hoped—that the idea of a miniature landscape would catch a child’s eye. What we made together is in the box in the photo below. The mountainous rock came from our plot in the back of the garden. I think I had to roll it across the lawn to get it there. The silver mounding artemisia “tree” and the dragon’s blood sedum came from a neighborhood nursery, long gone, replaced by luxury high-rises.
Time went on and at some point I had to redesign the bed. The spruce, which I have grown to love, spread tall and wide, and it and a new street tree gobbled up most of the sunshine. I accepted that I had to plant a shade garden. Now I think of it as the children’s forest garden. The current crop of child visitors seems okay with that, but I’m always trying to think of ways to add a little of the old garden back in.