How to Build a Simple Water Garden

How to Build a Simple Water Garden

Kids and dirt, sunshine, water … What could be a more naturally appealing opportunity for a family-centered summertime crafts project?

Toss in the time-honored kid-allure of shiny rocks, fuzzy moss, and anything that floats or glides across the water, and you’ve got the youngsters’ rapt attention!

Add a Star Wars, Ninja Turtles, Winks Club or other child-directed theme, and you’ve got the winning ingredients for a memory-making water garden — one that’s of, for and by the children in your life!

Safety First

Most children love water. They’re drawn to it, whether it’s a big, empty cement swimming pool, or a bubbling natural spring in the woods. Sometimes, their impulsive natures draw them, not just to the water, but into it.

It’s your job, as the adult, to keep safety first and foremost in your water-garden planning. And that’s easy to do, if you remember these two simple rules:

1. The younger, the shallower, the always-supervised

2. Electricity and children don’t mix. Keep the pumps and fountains in your adult water features.

Here’s a water garden crafts project you can enjoy with even your youngest youngsters. It’s safe, simple and inexpensive, and custom-designed with kids in mind.

For safety’s sake, you’ll want a shallow water feature. Choose a wide plastic or cement birdbath, or a shallow tub well-secured to a pedestal.

For this project, you’ll also need:

1. Small dark-plastic flower pot filled with dirt

2. Small glass fish bowl and multi-colored fish gravel (let the kids pick these out) mounted on pavers or rocks just above the water line

3. One changeable pygmy water lily, such as Nymphaea ‘Aurora’ or Nymphaea ‘Graziella’

4. One free-floating aquatic plant, such as umbrella-shaped Water Pennywort (Hydrocotyle vulgaris) or the bright and lively Water Clover (Marsilea)

5. One small, iridescent gazing ball of the type that’s wrapped in metal and can be inserted into the ground

6. Small plastic figurines themed to the children’s choice. If the choice is wide, just change the theme each time the youngsters clean out the birdbath/water garden.

Locate a spot in your yard or garden that receives at least three hours of direct sunlight a day, as your pygmy lily will require it. Pygmy lily blossoms are just two to three inches across, and the plant foliage — lily pads — will delight the young ones as they float on the water.

Until you have your water garden in place, keep your plants wet in a tub or pail of water.

If your chosen spot is nearby, but not shaded by, a tree or hedge, all the better. The birds who come to visit will appreciate the shelter as they scout out your yard for cats or other potential predators before they dip in.

Fill your basin about halfway with water while the youngsters are filling the fishbowl about half-way with the colorful gravel.

While you are planting the water lily into the dirt-filled plastic pot, let the kids begin putting the pavers or rocks into a mound in the center of the birdbath. (Don’t forget to fertilize your lily first, and use pellets, not liquid.)

Set your water lily in the water garden, and continue filling the pool until the water level is just above the rim of the plant, and lily pads are floating on the water.

Let the youngsters continue adding rocks to the center pile, then help them “sculpt” the placement so that the base of the fish bowl fits inside. (If the bowl seems insecure, you can have the kids weight it down with a few bigger rocks inside, against the glass.)

After you’ve made sure the bowl will fit securely into the nest of stones, take the bowl out and set it aside for the moment.

Now have the youngsters slip the pennywort or water clover into the pool. Both plants will thrive in the water and are prolific in an environment they like. So let the little ones know that part of their garden maintenance duties will be to keep an eye on the spreaders, and remove some of the excesses if and when it threatens to overtake the pool entirely.

Now the youngsters can begin placing their chosen theme figurines into the fishbowl. It doesn’t really matter if their design appeals to anyone but themselves — the more creative the better!

Finally, place your iridescent gazing ball into the soil next to the water garden. It’ll brighten up the spot while your aquatic plants are growing in, and looks delightful as it’s struck by the summer sunshine!

Plus if the youngsters are your grandchildren or relatives who don’t live with you, the shiny glass globe will remind them of their efforts every time they visit!

Throughout the summer, you and the kids can expand the theme to the area around the water garden, if you like. Clear out the sod and replace it with myrtle, pea gravel, mounds of green peat moss, or something equally malleable, to accept the figurines as the themes change and the kids toy with their new creation.

Later, you might want to add a few morning glories to climb the pool pedestal, or a twining ivy to naturalize the water feature. To keep the birds happy, keep the water fresh and the pool clean.

You can adapt and expand your water garden as the youngsters grow up and new ones enter the group! It’s not only lovely and educational, it’s a fun, family-oriented project that will give you pleasure — and pleasant memories — for years to come!

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