The City Magazine Since 1975

For the Wild Child

For the Wild Child
June 2018

Create a container kids can play with, and lessons in sun, rain, and earth will come naturally

Toys—like cars and dinosaurs—encourage little Fox to begin exploring this mini landscape.


Dinos graze in a jungle sprouting atop an old Charleston building. Down on the street, cars idle, ready to vroom up the walls and into the trees. In a child’s world, anything can happen. The same can be said for a container garden designed to encourage play—and nurture little growers’ knowledge about the natural world.

To make a kid-friendly planter of your own, think up a theme that will appeal to your child. Creating three site lines—say, a street level, a rooftop, and a tree canopy—will offer them more options to explore and relate.

Then select a container (with drainage holes) large enough to accommodate both plants and toys. We turned ours into a building by snapping a photo of windows at The Citadel that we printed on water slide decal paper. After applying the decals to the pot, we sealed them with acrylic spray.

Now, pick your plants. Look for varieties that enhance the container’s theme, and be sure to include a few with intriguing textures and scents (but teach children not to taste them!). In the rooftop dino oasis:

■ Dwarf ficus tree (Ficus benjamina) forms a canopy.
■ Superbells (Calibrachoa) and Mexican heather (Cuphea hyssopifolia) deliver blooms that attract pollinators.
■ Variegated sweet flag (Acorus gramineus), fiber optic grass (Isolepis cernua), and Scotch moss (Sagina subulata) create a lush jungle look.
■ Peppermint-scented geranium (Pelargonium tomentosum) attracts mini gardeners with its sweet fragrance.
■ Lamb’s ear (Stachys byzantina) is wonderfully soft and fuzzy.
■ Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia) and sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatas) are fast growers that will cascade beautifully.

Plant the container using nutrient-rich potting soil, then let your child loose and watch where that wild imagination roams.


Play a Little

Five more ideas for a fun kids' container

1. Instead of using one large pot, group smaller ones to create a village.

2. If you’re planning to add photos to your planter using water slide decals, consider photographing a place your child enjoys—whether that’s a park or an attraction like the South Carolina Aquarium.

3. Play with scale, adding a rock to make a mountain, for example.

4. Sink a plastic cup into the soil surface to form a water feature.

5. Create context for your container by drawing chalk roadways on a patio surface.


Ask an Expert: When it comes to fertilizing, what are the bare-minimum musts?

“It’s helpful to start with a soil test, which will identify any nutrient deficiencies and help you target correct applications. In general, you should apply fertilizer early in the growing season to give your plants a strong start, but June isn’t too late to begin. Organics such as compost and mulch will break down over time and build soil structure, ultimately creating humus that is ideal for successful gardening. Knowing your specific plants’ needs is key as well. For fruiting trees, look for fertilizer spikes formulated for specific varieties’ nutritional requirements. To boost showy annuals’ blooms, use Miracle-grow Liquidfeed, which attaches right to your hose. For everything else, look to organic fertilizers such as Espoma Tones.”