Pry the kids away from their screens and create a special outdoor space just for them!
Everyone needs a space of their own, a place to unwind and relax, especially as families have spent an extraordinary amount of time together at home in the past year. Kids may want to veg out in front of a computer game or TV, but instead give them the gift of their own garden space: a kid-friendly backyard retreat where they can hide out from grownups and let their imaginations run wild!
“Gardens are not just for adults; they can be magical places for kids to get away from it all, too!” says Brenna Chase, Vegetables Product Manager at Johnny’s Selected Seeds. “Whether you want to get creative with your trellising and create a squash tunnel or grow climbing plants over an existing backyard playhouse, the options are endless. Growing hideouts for kids is a great way to stimulate their senses with fun smells, various textures, bright colors, and delicious flavors.”
You don’t need a big budget or lots of tools to make simple—but fabulously fun—garden hangouts and hideaways for kids. In fact, check out how to create an adorable sunflower house with just seeds and a shovel from NGB member Kidsgardening.org. For other fun hideaways, grab some bamboo poles, string, seeds, a shovel—and your kids—and get started!
Helpful Hint: Let kids help pick out the seeds to grow for their hideaways. Explain to them the difference between “bush” and “pole” or vining varieties, but let them choose their favorite peas, beans, squash, and flowers to make it THEIR special place!
A PEAceful Lean-To
For a spectacular spring escape that looks lovely, tastes great, and is super simple to make, try growing a lean-to covered with peas. Pick a sunny spot in the backyard near a fence or wall that will support wooden stakes and netting and get ready to plant a great garden hideout!
(Note: Peas are a cool-season crop, so grow this hideaway early in the season.)
What you need:
- 3 wooden stakes, 5 to 6 feet (1.5 to 2 m) tall
- Polypropylene netting, like Trellis Plus from Johnny’s Select Seeds, cut to 6 feet (1.8 m) in length
- Staple gun and staples
- Pea seeds (choose tall vining varieties like Sugar Snap, Maxigolt, or Golden Sweet)
- Hand trowel
- Choose a supportive wall in a sunny location.
- Spread out the netting on the ground and cut to the desired length.
- Weave a wooden stake through the left side of the netting and use staples to secure the netting to the stake. Repeat on the right side, as well as in the middle of the netting to help keep it taut.
- Dig three 6-inch-deep (15 cm) holes for the wooden stakes, and insert the stakes in the holes at an angle, leaning the top of the stakes against the supportive wall. Fill in the first hole with soil, packing it tightly to support the stake. It’s helpful for another adult to hold the end stake and netting so that it’s taut while you fill in each hole.
- Once the stakes and nets are leaning against the wall, it’s time to plant! Let the kids pick which peas they want to grow. Try mixing different varieties so kids can experience the various flowers, pea colors, pod shapes, and flavor.
- Dig holes along the bottom of the netting, spacing pea seeds about 2 inches (5 cm) apart. Plant the seeds ½-inch (1.25 cm) deep, then cover with soil.
- Water well.
- Peas typically sprout in about a week. The plants need an inch (2.5 cm) of water each week, so make sure to give them a drink when the top inch (2.5 cm) of soil feels dry. The vines should easily grab onto the netting, but you may need to help guide them a bit. Let the kids help!
- As the vines fill in, encourage the kids to use the lean-to as a secret hideout or reading nook. The best part is: as the vines produce pods, kids can enjoy an instant garden snack, picked straight from the vines. Peas taste scrumptious eaten fresh from the garden.
- Because pea vines dislike hot weather and will fade as temperatures rise, add pole bean seeds or vining flowers to replace the peas for a summer-long retreat.
Helpful Hint: Most veggies, like peas, beans, and squash, need at least 6 hours of sun each day. Make sure to pick a sunny spot for the garden hideaway.
Pole Bean Teepee
It’s easy to create endless hours of creative play with this super-cute, vine-covered hideaway teepee. Best of all, it’s simple to build—and the vertically grown beans make it easy on your back at harvest time!
What You’ll Need:
- 8 bamboo or wooden poles, 8 to 10 feet (2,5 à 3 m) tall
- Jute or strong string
- Garden soil (optional)
- Pole bean seeds (also known as “runner” beans)
- Annual vining flower seeds, like morning glory, cardinal climber, or black-eyed Susan vine (optional)
- Choose a sunny, level site in the yard.
- Outline a crescent-shaped space for the teepee with string. Remember to leave an opening for the doorway.
- Remove grass from the curved outline with a shovel, and add garden soil if needed.
- To assemble the poles, push the bottom end into the soil, spacing the poles about two feet (60 cm) apart.
- Gather the top of the poles together and secure them with twine.
- Once the poles are connected, weave twine through the frame to create a trellis for the vines to climb. Start at the top and weave the twine tightly through the frame, spiraling around and down the frame to the ground. Make sure to leave an opening for the doorway.
- After the danger of frost has passed, plant bean seeds 1 inch (2.5) deep and about 2 inches (5 cm) apart along the base of the frame. Cover with soil and water well. To add more color, plant sun-loving vining flowers along with the beans, if you like.
- As the seedlings grow, guide them onto the trellis. They’ll continue growing up the structure for a lush layer of leaves that will make a perfect hideout.
- Beans need about an inch (2.5 cm) of water each week. When the top inch (2.5 cm) of soil is dry, it’s time to give them a drink.
- Have the kids keep a lookout for the first flowers, followed by beans. For fun, try growing “magic” beans—purple podded pole beans that turn green when they’re cooked!
Helpful Hint: Choose a location for the vine-covered hideaways near a water source for easy veggie watering.
Squash Tunnel Reading Nook
For a fun kids’ hideout—and a great way to tame the sprawl of squash in the garden—create a simple, strong tunnel to grow squash vines vertically.
“Tall and vining veggies can be used to make great garden hideouts,” says Heather Kibble, Sakata Seed America, Inc. Sales Manager, Home Grown Division.“The plants provide refuge from the summer heat and create soothing sounds… It seems you can actually see squash vines grow in the summer, and the big leaves are like shade tents for birds and insects. Squash blooms are large and bright and make a great backdrop for observing pollinators at work. It is fun to watch squash and pumpkins plump up as the summer progresses into fall…”
This easy-to-make tunnel requires an extra set of grownup hands for the installation. But then let the kids have fun planting the seeds! Squash varieties with smaller fruit work best for vertical growing.
What You Need:
- Cattle panel, typically sold as 16 feet (4.9 m) by 50 inches (1.27 m) although sizes vary
- 4 T-posts or ½-inch (1.25 cm) rebar, 4-feet (1.20) tall
- 4 Zip ties
- Vining squash seeds, like Sweet Dumpling or Little Dipper
- Hand trowel
- Choose a sunny space on a level site.
- Determine how wide to make the tunnel. Younger kids don’t require a tall hideout, so you may want to make the tunnel wider instead of narrow and tall, giving them plenty of room to play.
- Place a t-post or rebar in each corner to anchor the cattle panel. Drive the post about 12 inches (30 cm) into the ground.
- Attach the cattle panel to the t-posts or rebar. Secure the panel to the posts with zip ties on one side, then bend the panel to form an arch and attach it to the posts on the second side. The panel should be flush to the ground on both sides.
- Dig holes along the bottom of each side of the cattle panel, and plant the squash seeds about one inch deep. Space the seeds 6 inches (15 cm) apart, then cover with soil and water. Make sure all danger of frost has passed—squash is a warm-season veggie and dislikes frost.
- Water well throughout the summer.
- As the squash vines grow, help direct them upwards to weave through the cattle panel until the tunnel is fully covered for a perfect hideout. Add a blanket or chair for a perfect reading nook.
- Harvest squash as it ripens and enjoy a garden-to-table family meal.
Now you can create your own garden hideaway!
With just a little time and planning, you’ve created fabulous garden hideaways that kids will enjoy all spring, summer, and fall—and again next year, planted with fresh vines. Plus, you’ll love how easy it is to harvest the tasty veggies when they grow vertically.
Who knows? If you’re lucky, maybe the kids will invite you to share their secret space—as long as you bring the snacks. (Or maybe you can relax and enjoy a good book while they’re busy playing in their great garden hideout!) Whether they enjoy the space alone or with others, they’ll create great memories in their garden hideout.
This article and most of the photos were supplied by the National Garden Bureau.