How to Design a Resilient Garden That’s Perfect for Kids
Here’s what you need to create a resilient space kids will love to explore
Published on September 14, 2021
Can you think of the last garden you saw?
What did it look like? Did it have any native plants? Was it easy for children to interact with? Was there anything that could be harvested or eaten?
We don’t always ask ourselves these questions about gardens. Too often, they are created to fit a certain aesthetic and budget, without considering how they can support pollinators, create local food systems, or make space for children to play.
At Evergreen Brick Works, our gardens are designed to be resilient and self-sustaining, while giving kids a place to learn and play outdoors.
In 2020, Foresters Financial approached Evergreen with a vision. They wanted to create a space with a focus on growing food, supporting wildlife, and providing a place for kids and families to interact with nature.
Working together, Evergreen and Foresters staff designed a new garden that would do just that.
Here’s what we learned along the way.
How to Create a Resilient Garden
“A garden with many different species and varieties of plants has a far greater chance of resisting disease, fluctuating temperatures and other stressors,” shares Luke Howie, Senior Program Manager at Evergreen, and a leader in our place-based education work. “There are so many unknowns when it comes to climate change at the local level, we want to make sure we increase our chances of weathering anything climate change throws our way. In the case of a garden like this, it’s a matter of food security.”
With that in mind, a section of our existing Children’s Garden — one of our most beloved spaces that showcases place-based outdoor play and learning — was chosen for a redesigned Guild Garden focused on establishing a community of native, resilient and food-bearing plants which, planted together, help one another thrive.
“Big picture, the idea behind so many of the plantings we introduced is that through planting a variety of plants we are creating a more resilient garden — from diversity comes resiliency”
An existing cherry tree was chosen as the center of the new garden, which was then surrounded by 25 plant species, including berries, vegetables and herbs. Many of the seedlings for the garden were grown on site at the Brick Works, thanks to generous funding from Foresters to improve our existing greenhouse.
“[This] allowed us to select the most vigorous and healthy plants, which we know work on a local scale,” explains Howie. “It’s also a big part of food security, not needing to rely on outside sources for seeds.”
The plants in the garden were chosen carefully to support local pollinators and wildlife.
Proven favorites with kids were selected whenever possible. Plants like borage were introduced, to support pollinators while producing edible blue flowers, while marigolds were chosen to discourage harmful microscopic organisms in the soil and add color and playfulness to the space.
Designing for Kids
Of course, designing a resilient food-focused garden was only one part of the vision. Our team also had to consider how to make it fun for kids.
“Smells, textures, colours, tastes — this new garden design really has it all from a sensory perspective,” says Howie.
Creating spaces that were fun for kids to play in was a top priority — how could the garden be designed so they could run around and explore? A centuries-old hollow white oak log was added to the garden’s maze-like path.
“We thought to ourselves, what’s more fun, walking through a garden or walking through a garden and then having the opportunity to climb through a giant hollow log?” says Howie. “The answer is obvious! This has always been a demonstration garden for innovative ideas.”
By playing and interacting with the garden, there will also be plenty of opportunities for kids to learn about the importance of growing local food.
“Most kids don’t know that there is a different way to grow food than monocrops in a field. When we show them that they can grow different plants all together their eyes light up,” says Howie. “The way we farm and grow food is changing and we want kids to be prepared for that by modeling innovative and wholistic food forest gardens like this one.”
Foresters Making Their Vision a Reality
Foresters staff built the garden from the ground up during a three-month series of activations. The team took part in landscaping the new garden beds, soil building and tree planting.
“Through our employee engagement program, Working for Purpose, volunteerism and community are priority, along with offering these opportunities to employees,” shares Foresters spokesperson Stephanie Frenyes. “Having our staff dig in to build the garden with their own hands reflects exactly who we are.”
Foresters generous support and vision for the garden were essential to its creation.
“Foresters’ Purpose is to enrich family and community well-being, which has been true for almost 150 years,” says Frenyes. “Nothing is more essential to well-being than healthy food, air and water, and this is what inspired our Growing a Better Future Sustainability Program. Regenerative agricultural practices like food forests and looking to learn from nature’s wisdom will help us collectively correct course and ensure a viable future for all.”