Landscaping With Children in Mind

A playhouse surrounded by a butterfly and bird garden.

The Finished Children's Garden

The Finished Children's Garden

This Connecticut lawn was transformed into an enchanted playground where children learn about gardening.

Photo by: Image courtesy of Austin Ganim Landscape Design

Image courtesy of Austin Ganim Landscape Design

This Connecticut lawn was transformed into an enchanted playground where children learn about gardening.

A family purchased this home in Fairfield, Connecticut, during the winter months when several feet of snow concealed the yard where their children would one day play.

“Much to their surprise on move-in day during warmer weather, they discovered that there was not a decorative plant to be found, and instead of what they thought might have been plants beneath the snow was just a steep bank that was difficult to mow,” says Eva Chiamulera, landscape architect with Austin Ganim Landscape Design, based in Fairfield. “We worked with the homeowners to develop a multi-year plan to transform their yard, starting with solving the problem of the difficult slope and creating a dynamic, interactive space for their children.”

The resulting sanctuary, with compelling features to catch the eye every season, looks idyllic enough for an old-fashioned storybook.

First, the designers constructed a low stone retaining wall to resolve grading problems and create a level area for the centerpiece of the lawn, a playhouse (designed and prefabricated by Kloter Farms and installed by Austin Ganim) and raised planting beds for the children. “These parents are really committed to introducing their kids to nature and gardening, so the children are involved in every step, from selecting the vegetables and herbs for these beds, to planting them, and then picking them,” Chiamulera says.

To reach the playhouse, the children ascend a staircase of monolithic fieldstone slabs, lined with strawberry plants and pass between dwarf fruit trees and blueberry bushes. The view from the playhouse porch swing overlooks a bird and butterfly garden.  “We took care to provide food sources for all of the different stages of a butterfly’s life cycle, including the larval one, as well as seed producers for the birds."

The hillside planting incorporates ornamental grasses, evergreens and perennials for winter interest, along with vibrant flowering plants and shrubs that attract hummingbirds and other pollinators during the summer.

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“As the seasons change, so does the floral display,” Chiamulera says. “The garden begins blooming in April with rhododendrons, by May dwarf lilacs are complimented by the pastel shades of spring the soft yellow of ‘Moonshine’ yarrow, the blues of salvia and catmint, transitioning to bold, bright colors of  summer with fuchsia, dark purple Adonis, butterfly bushes and orange milkweed. The late summer and fall garden turns to white and shades of pink as ‘Pinky Winky’ panicle hydrangea is paired with drifts of Joe Pye weed and a mixture of coneflowers. ‘Pink Knockout’ roses close the garden out in late November after the first hard frost.”

The best part? Memories.

“We’ve stayed in touch with this family, and the children absolutely love this space and spend a lot of time playing there and learning about gardening."

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