Profile time! Today, Zone 2, a little space I and the kids really enjoy.
Zone 2 quick profile
Watered, in pots, semi-shaded. Plant choices based around high interactivity and safety for children, and resilience in the face of enthusiastic toddlers. About 2-3 square metres in size.
There are four main garden zones at my house – two irrigated, two unirrigated. The smallest of the zones is the kid-friendly pot plant zone. It’s under and around a corner of the patio, the same corner where the pavers are being lifted by tree roots so I don’t want the kids running flat out there anyhow. This means limited light, which is good in summer, but also limited rainfall which means I have to try and remember to water in winter. And usually I don’t. Consequently the plants that thrive here are all somewhat drought tolerant, seeing as even though they get semi-regular summer water they are still in pots so can be strongly affected by hot days. I also select for fragrances, for a range of interesting textures, and for varieties of leaf shape and plant shape. And the kids provide an evolutionary pressure for plants that don’t mind regular “pruning”, “weeding”, knockovers or any other unintended harm. My final criteria: all safe to eat. Some may not taste very nice, but I make the basic assumption that the plants will be explored with all the senses – and they should be. They will also be hidden amongst, used for games, have rows and clusters rearranged into secret passages – you name it. The total size of this garden would be two to three square metres, so there’s a limit to what they can do – but it hasn’t at all stopped the two-year-old playing “jungle” when he can. Its proximity to the house and shadiness means that the kids can play with it or in it even in the middle of hot summer days.
I have a few lines and layers to give the space structure, and here’s what’s in them:
At the back line, blocking the fence, there are some tall year-round shooting plants – cardamom and an ornamental ginger of some unknown kind (pinched from a friend’s garden) that give me lovely leafy cover against the fence. No spice from them, but the leaves have a nice fragrance when rubbed. I have grown one of the Australian native gingers in another version of this garden at another home and it went beautifully too, tough as nails.
In the next step down (the area is slightly sloped) I have real ginger and also turmeric in pots but these die back in winter. There are a couple of aloes gratefully received as gifts, which are starting to spread (hark! That’s the sound of my to-do list chiming!). This layer also has several scented pelargoniums and geraniums, by far my favourite plant for a toddler garden. They have such a variety of appearances and fragrances, they’re very tough plants, they respond well to constant “pruning” and they aren’t at all harmful – no thorns, no poison, no itching, no spiky bits or serrations. And when they flower they do so prolifically. The scented pelargoniums usually don’t have the bright colourful flowers that the varieties bred for flowering do, so I guess which ones you get is a matter of personal choice. The other thing about geraniums and pelargoniums is that they’re readily available to buy and easy to grow your own from snitched pieces.
Then there’s a general cluster of pots, all in a bright desert/sea colour scheme, with whatever herbs and small plants I thought seemed worth growing. Catgrass and catnip for the cats, a woolly bush that’s growing in preparation for being our Christmas tree in a year or three, a mint or two, a carnation, a strawberry, stevia, society garlic – lots of things to touch and taste, often but not always picked from the “dry” herbs section of nurseries (Mediterranean or tropical-savannah origin a real plus). The kids have experimented with combinations, it took them about four weeks to discover that a mint leaf plus a stevia leaf eaten together tastes like toothpaste. In this section I also hide plants I intend to plant out elsewhere when I get to it so that they get water in the interim, and seedlings that the kids have planted so they can watch them grow. Some of those end up staying. I did try putting a bird bath in here too however the kids thought that tipping the water out of it and filling it with sand was too interesting a game so I’ve taken it out again for now. While we did have a couple of birds come to visit, they were very cautious because our cats had also claimed it as their personal drinking fountain, so it wasn’t having its intended effect anyway.
There is no groundcover layer at this point. I’ve thought about it, but exactly how or what I want to do hasn’t taken form. Instead we have sand over plastic where the patio pavers used to be, and loose semi-mulch outside the old edge of the patio. I’ve considered making a permanent sandpit to be part of this space and form a proper edge to the taken-up paving, and considered making a stepping-stone-like edge from log rounds, but haven’t taken the plunge for either.
And finally, a flying layer. Last year I had strawberries in hanging bags, and the kids loved running around under them when I watered as they acted like a dripping shower. The strawberries didn’t do that well though as the bags don’t hold moisture well, so they’re planted out elsewhere this year. I do have hanging baskets though, currently holding a mint and a mastic thyme, and I’ll try and increase the number and range of those this year so that there can be more interesting textures trailing from above. I might also try a birdfeeder or birdwaterer in this layer this year too, once the rains finish up.