An interactive dinosaur garden is a great way to get the kids actively engaging in imaginative play outside. It also provides them with a serene place to touch base with nature. So if you have the space, use it!
It seems to be becoming a rare thing in Auckland these days, but our family happens to be living smack-bang in the middle of a sizable section with ample space for the kids to run about. The landscape, however, is pretty bare, and while that would be great if our kids were interested in backyard cricket, their play doesn’t so much involve kicking balls but immersing themselves in their imagination. It involves dinosaurs, superheroes, cute furry animals, monster trucks and Minecraft figures. Often all mashed together into one grand sweeping saga of fantasy play.
We live in a rental property, but it’s been our home for a good 15 or so years now, and our landlady has been happy to allow us to take care of it as if it were our own. Thus, in an effort to provide the incentive for our kids to play outside, as well as do something with the bland boring landscape that our house otherwise sits upon, I recently decided to create a ‘dinosaur garden’ in the backyard.
The inspiration for this natural play garden came from our dinosaur-obsessed daughter. A long time ago, with the help of our then-puppy, she scooped out a ‘dino pit’ directly at the base of the back steps. Her reasoning was that it was perfect for use as a dinosaur waterhole and, better yet, trapping anyone who forgot to mind their step when venturing out the back door.
Finally, growing tired of watching visitors fall into the trap (it was fun initially, of course), I picked up the spade, marked out a circle (or thereabouts) in the middle-ish of the back lawn, and started to dig.
We’ve dubbed it the “dinosaur garden” but the superheroes, cars and Minecraft figures are equally welcome.
Bear in mind, our dinosaur garden is nothing fancy. Everything was sourced as cheaply as possible. We bought a stack of volcanic rock from Trade Me, the pumice used on the path was sourced by a gardener friend and bought at ridiculously low-cost from a glasshouse, and while we did buy most of the plants, a few were gifted from friends or pulled from other parts of our own garden. Even those that we bought were paid at rock-bottom prices as they came from a local nursery which was, quite unfortunately, having a closing down sale.
But so far as providing a child-focused nature area for the kids to bring their imaginations to life in… This interactive little rock garden does the trick nicely!
Interested in creating a nature playground for your own kids? Read on for the skinny on how our little Jurassic Paradise was created, and maybe it’ll kindle some inspiration!
- After two trips to the North Shore to pick up a cubic meter or so of Rangitoto’s wonderful volcanic rock (won for a $20 in a Trade Me auction), and with nothing else yet to go by, I marked out a half-pie semblance of a circle and said goodbye to that section of lawn.
- Next, I closed my eyes, spun around anti-clockwise five times and chose that as the perfect spot to dig out a lil’ pond for the dinos to swim in. I was going to lay down tarp or buy a small garden pond thingie, but our mud-loving daughter begged for it to be left as a bare hole in the ground so she could jump in and enjoy the pleasant (??) squelch of mud between her toes.
- Weed-mat was then placed down to make maintenance a little bit more bearable. (Though I am now battling a lawn that desperately wants to re-establish itself at the edge of the dino pond where the weed-mat didn’t cover.)
- I stacked volcanic rock up around the dirt mound beside the pond and then got my partner to restack it all after I found myself over-analysing every rock placement to the point where I became trapped in a continuous time-loop of self-doubt and inner torment.
- Next went in the pumice and plants. Everything from the choice of which volcanic rock to use on the outer edge, to which plant to place where, was considered with the children’s play in mind. For example one chunk of scoria had a flatish kind of surface with an indentation that made for a perfect mini landscape + water hole for the smaller dinos (eh and Minecraft or Lego figures.) Mondo grasses give the bracio’s somewhere to hide from the rex’s, and a few spreading herbs such as lemon thyme and oregano have been planted amid the rocky edge for a bit of interest and to of course provide food for the herbivores to nibble upon.
- Finally, we added the children. And their toys. And the dog. And some water. And some mud. Complete!
- … Okay not quite complete. Since these photos were taken, three magnolias have been planted around the outside of the dino garden, with hedging shrubs planted between them, to eventually provide the kids with the privacy to wallow creatively in their mud pool without feeling as if a dozen or so neighbours are all staring into the yard with their faces pressed to the windows.
Stay tuned for another photo update in spring/summer when the garden has had a bit more time to establish (I’m crossing my fingers that the magnolia’s survive.)
So there you have it! How to create a magical play garden for the kids – on a shoestring budget! Now go forth, and start digging!
…And please feel free to share any questions or tips of your own in the comment section. 🙂