University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Anytime Article


Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor

Just because you have young kids that doesn't mean you have to postpone your plans to landscape your yard.  With a little forethought and planning, you can create outdoor spaces that not only will appeal to all ages, but which will evolve, as your kids grow older into the landscape that you always wanted.

The American Nursery and Landscape Association offers these suggestions for a kid-friendly environment with grown-up appeal.

If your yard is often filled with bicycles, toys, and other outdoor playthings, incorporate outdoor structures into your landscape plan.  These can be as simple as a weatherproofed wooden bench with storage space that doubles as a resting place and a container for toys.  Or build a gazebo that kids can turn into a fort or playhouse during the day and adults can use for candlelit dinners or evening entertaining.

Enhance the setting by planting fast-growing vines such as ivy, clematis, or jasmine to cover the structure or fragrant vines, including jasmine and honeysuckle for their sensory appeal.  If you plan to use the space often at night, plant white or silvery plants like evening primrose, nicotiana, and moonflower nearby for their after-dark appeal.

You can plant low-growing shrubs to keep toys and play areas hidden from view without blocking your view of your kids and their friends at play.  Shrubs also can be used to section off a private outdoor space for you to relax.  Or use a lattice fence, planting vines along it.

Erect a pole bean teepee, setting the poles far enough apart for a kid-sized hiding space beneath the leafy frame.  Encourage their interest in gardening and eating the fruits of their labor by enlisting their help to plant and harvest the beans.  Plant a few bushes of cherry tomatoes nearby for on-the-go snacking.

The sound and sight of water is appealing to all generations although what you choose will depend on the ages of your kids.  Think safe and simple if you have a young family instead of large or deep-water features.  In other words, a bubble fountain may be the better choice than a water garden, at least until the kids grow up.

Sandboxes offer hours of pleasure for kids, but if you build a more permanent structure of cement or wood, does this mean that you are stuck with a backyard eyesore, once the kids have outgrown it?  Not necessarily.  An empty sandbox can be transformed into a raised flowerbed or water garden when no longer needed.

When selecting plants for your yard, don't purchase thorny or delicate plants.  Instead pick virtually "indestructible" plants like beebalm and soft, tough ornamental grasses.  Grow plants that appeal to the senses such as lamb's ear, which is soft to the touch, or fragrant herbs and flowers.  Some good choices of sweet-smelling plants are peonies, garden phlox, and scented geraniums.

You also might want to include plants with funny or interesting names like butterfly bush, but avoid anything that may cause a skin irritation if touched--yarrow and gas plant, for example.  Many potentially harmful perennials are described in the University of Vermont Extension Leaflet at on the Internet.
Or, if you prefer to leave more open lawn space for now, forget the perennials and instead plant a container garden, grouping attractive pots, flats, and half-whiskey barrels of colorful annuals around the yard for visual interest.  Involve your older kids by asking them to help select, plant, and water the flowers.  The latter helps teach them responsibility and other life skills.

Finally, decide what you can realistically tackle.  If you are a do-it-yourselfer, you may want to do it all from building the gazebo to planting trees, shrubs, and flowers.  That may not be realistic if you have toddlers or are committed to carpooling or driving your kids to various sports and after-school activities.  By scaling your ideas to match your resources in time and money, you'll be more assured of a successful garden that can be enjoyed by all ages.

Return to Perry's Perennial Pages, Articles