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.

creating a dinosaur garden

Oh, this isn’t the finished thing. This is just a pile of rocks on the lawn. Though given how much our daughter instantly enjoyed it, I probably could have just kept it as a pile of rocks on the lawn…


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.

creating a dino garden

20-something bags of pumice and a hodge-podge collection of whatever-plants-caught-our-eye. Because that’s how we roll.


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!
  1. 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.
    creating a dinosaur garden

    Note to self: Next time I decide to dig up the lawn, wait until enough rain has fallen to soften the ground. Ye gods. Someone bring me a beer! 

  2. 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.
  3. 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.)
  4. 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.
    creating a dino garden

    But seriously, is it beer-o-clock yet?

  5. 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.
    kids play garden

    There’s loads of thyme to play in this garden! (oh no… Worst. Pun. Ever. Please someone, take the Internet away from me…?)

  6. Finally, we added the children. And their toys. And the dog. And some water. And some mud. Complete!
    create a children's nature garden

    Just needs a few shrubs around the outer edge and we’re good to go.

  7. … 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. 🙂

create a dino garden for the kids

Even the frosty mornings can’t deter Dino Girl from playing in this garden!


There’s inspiration to be found in the ordinary. Beauty to be found in the mundane. This is West Auckland street photography. Urban-rural style. And a shot at some exercise. If I’m lucky.

At the risk of sounding like I’m losing my mind, I’m pretty sure we’re in the grip of an arachnid alien invasion.

From Whenuapai to Herald Island, these spider webs appear to have sprung up overnight, and they’re everywhere. They were beautiful with the early morning sunlight shining on them and the remnants of frost still clinging to their gossamer strands, but once the sun shifted and the dew dried, they became virtually invisible.  Guess it was lucky that we came along at just the right time to catch the magic.


whenuapai photography

Remember Spiderman; with great power comes great responsibility.


In effort to get some exercise, break free of the weekly humdrum and find inspiration in my surroundings, I’ve been going on near-daily excursions around the neighbourhood and nearby suburbs. With a friend we walk and chat; venting and brainstorming as we go. While on the days that the dog accompanies me, she takes on the role of my personal trainer; pushing me to jog a few km – using her ‘aww gummon!’ eyes to drive me on whenever I start to lag.


herald island photography

Herald Island wharf and waterfront is particularly inspiring on a misty winter morning


It’s a dangerous thing to bring along my camera during these excursions. I run the risk of spending the entire day ambling at a snail’s pace while photographing every last little interesting thing that catches my eye, and then lugging home a memory card full of pictures I’ll likely never look at again – and all without achieving any kind of cardiovascular workout.

Walking the rural fringe of West Auckland is so much more interesting than driving. Everything inspires me. No really. Everything.


west auckland street photography

It’s ordinary. It’s every day. It’s depressing. It’s grotesque. So naturally I had to photograph it.


Take the way that cardboard McDonald’s packet stands out against a grassy Whenuapai berm, while a car blurs by in the background. It’s bleak. It’s ugly. It’s corporate-branded pollution. The fact that so many cars can whizz by without even noticing the McTrash is just a sad example of the blind-eyed self-centered bubble we as individuals live in. And all the while the consumeristic machine that is our society powers on towards its own destruction; contaminating everything that’s pure and natural in this world as it goes.

Or something like that.

I’m feeling a need to change something in my life. To pursue a new direction. I don’t want to spend the rest of my existence sitting before a screen. This outdoors thing is really quite nice.

While admiring the beauty in the mundane, I start thinking about whether or not I could plausibly make a living from selling photographs of spiderwebs, dead pukeko, or the interesting placement of an ancient wheelbarrow in an overgrown field. What could we call this? Urban rural street photography?

Then I stop and remember that the reason I enjoy photography is because it’s a hobby. Not something I’m trying to make any kind of living from. Thus there’s no pressure to be outstanding at it. No pressure to churn out photos that other people will want. I only need to concern myself about what I find interesting through the camera lens. Not what anyone else might perhaps possibly find interesting.

That’s not to say I won’t consider a photographic job opportunity should one come up. Let’s be real here. But maybe I should start practicing portrait or product photography, and stop admiring roadside weeds and rusting things.

west auckland street photography

First written: 28 August 2015. Published  25 April 2016

To some, the barren, bony frames of deciduous trees can be a melancholic feature of Winter. By the time we’re halfway through July, I’m inclined to agree. Grey upon grey gets depressing after a while. Grey sky. Grey trees. Grey buildings… Hey wasn’t that building bright yellow just a couple of months back? Damnit. Winter just strips the life and colour out of everything.

But there’s a window of time – before the grey haze settles like an unwelcome weight against one’s chest- when Winter is beautiful. When it’s not yet cold enough to merit 15 layers of thermal underwear. When the early morning frosts are more novelty than nuisance. And when there are still enough amber-leaved trees to give striking contrast to the grey-against-grey.

We’re nearly two weeks into Winter, and I’m in love with the season. So far. (Bear in mind, I’m kidding myself that it’s still Autumn. Give me another month and I’ll be lamenting summer.)

It’s the tree skeletons I find particularly appealing. The way their branches arch upwards towards the sky; grasping hungrily for every last ray of sunlight. While those that still boast ochre-coloured leaves capture the light like dryad fire; never burning or consuming, yet radiating warmth all the same. I’m fascinated by the moss and lichens that attempt to dress their poor naked forms; creeping along their aging limbs like a… a…

Oh, I’ve run out of super-lame prose. Which is just as well as I was close to dry-retching on my own attempt at writing it. But you get the drill, right?

There has been more than one occasion this week where I’ve caught myself prattling on about naked trees and autumn leaves to whomever is unfortunate enough to be trapped in conversation with me. Sadly, it was the same person on at least three of those occasions. And while a part of my brain cried ‘really Kelly? This is all you can think of to talk about right now? Do you want her to think you’re MAD?!’ I found a small measure of comfort in the fact that this person has known me for 15 years. Thus, she already knows I’m quite mad.

Having decided graphic design gives me artistic licence to be as obsessed with trees as I darn-well like, I’ve snapped pics of several woody skeletons this week. All in the name of “design inspiration” of course. Not because I have an obsessive personality type or anything…

autumn trees

I passed this tree on my way home, and then had to return with my camera. I must look kinda weird, standing on roadsides, photographing branches and bark…


autumn design inspiration

Not actually sure why I put a watermark on this. Not like anyone’s gonna want to steal off with my crappy tree.


This afternoon I finished off a set of pre-made Facebook graphics inspired by my current tree obsession. The set includes a timeline cover with matching profile pic (with customisable text), app covers and a promo graphic (to be supplied blank). It’s now up for sale in the store.

autumn fall premade facebook graphics




Stay tuned for more in the way of trees. I fear I’m not over this fixation yet. (If someone would like to pay me to shut up about trees and work on a completely different design project, please… Be my guest. My paying guest.)

As well as a great opportunity to dust off the DSLR and photograph the kids chasing each other amid the last of the autumn Liquid Amber((for the record, I thought these were maple trees, but as google revealed, they’re Liquid Amber. It’s the spikey nuts that gave them away. ;))) leaves this afternoon, I lugged home a collection of leaves to photograph and convert into Photoshop textures and brushes.

autumn leaves

autumn leaves


I think Autumn is my favourite season, if for no other reason than that I love the way the leaves change colour as they get ready to fall. There’s something about the rich reds and, when you turn them over, antiqued tan of Liquid Amber trees in particular that I find incredibly compelling. And look at the luscious yellow of that Ginko! Sure, the leaf-litter would all become a bit much to deal with after a while… But I wish these beautiful trees were in our backyard. (The fact that they’re available at our local park will have to suffice!)

Meanwhile, a photo of my daughter sitting on a tree stump, making dinosaur impersonations, inspired me to create for her a set of leafy fairy wings in Photoshop:


Liquid Amber leaf wings created in photoshop new zealand Liquidamber leaf (not to be confused with Maple, as it turns out..)



In hindsight, I don’t know what the hell I was thinking, making fairy wings. If it’s not dinosaurs she’s obsessing over, it’s dragons. Think I’ll be whipping up some reptilian wings tonight. And perhaps I’ll post a tutorial here to go with it. (Of course, don’t hold your breath on that one.)