Whimsical Gardens

I like to garden, but I’m not terribly serious about it. Growing things for the experience is interesting. But growing things just for fun is even better.

I respect people who can grow lots of great food or create gardens that are beautiful to look at. But I adore gardeners who can make me laugh.

Here are a few gardens that make me smile, along with some easy ways to inject a little whimsy into your garden, patio or windowsill this year.

Embrace Kitschy Garden Statues:
These little frogs are celebrities in my neighborhood. Their owners never met a lawn ornament — or holiday — that they didn’t like. The frogs (there are about a dozen more) are replaced by a bevy of eggs and bunnies for Easter, neat rows of tiny American flags for the summer holidays and a painted pumpkin patch every Halloween.

These homeowners haven’t just embraced their kitschiness, they’ve elevated it to an art form. And their joy is infectious. If goofy statues make you smile, why stop at just one? Embrace the kitsch and have fun with it. Just be prepared to for people to notice.

Go Monochromatic:
Whimsy doesn’t always have to be cute. It’s rooted in notions of playfulness and fancy, so if you love a particular color, why not try a monochromatic garden? Or take it one step further and plant all one bloom. There’s no rule that gardens have to be packed with many different colors and flowers.

To get maximum enjoyment out of your monochromatic garden, choose flowers that bloom at different times of the year or choose varieties that rebloom often, like these daylilies. When you plant something you love, it’ll always make you smile.

Photo by Amanda Slater

Think Small — Really Small:
Fairy gardens are pure whimsy, tiny tableaus nestled inside pretty containers, stumps and a garden’s unused corners.  A fairy garden might contain a little cottage, winding paths, hidden doors or a diminutive picnic spot, complete with fairy-sized furniture (think dollhouse scale) and tiny props.

This project is great if you have very limited space — any pretty container or small space will do — and it’s guaranteed to fascinate children.

Integrate Native Plants:
Native grasses and flowers inject a sense of wildness to a landscape, breaking up all those perfect plantings and setting your yard apart. Native plants are good for the environment (they require fewer pesticides and less watering) and they provide shelter and food for local animals. They’ll also be less work for you because they’re already uniquely suited to your local soil and climate.

Native plants look fresh and unexpected when they’re combined with more traditional landscaping plants and downright dramatic when they blanket a space. I love how these purple coneflowers and daisies look when they’re growing wild. And hey, there’s less to mow!

Make Your Forest Friendly:
I have mad respect for any decorative element that has the ability to freak people out at a glance.

I actually did a triple take as Eli and I walked by this tree and it was hilarious to watch passing motorists notice what we were looking and then slow down to try to convince themselves that they weren’t losing their minds.

If this makes you laugh, you can get your own nifty tree face here. Is it weird that I want to plant trees just so I can buy faces for them? Probably. But if putting faces on trees is wrong, than I don’t wanna be right.

Create Your Own Basket:
No space? No money? Think all planters are ugly? No worries — just make your own.

You’ll also get to feel environmentally virtuous because you’re reusing something old and creating a statement piece in the process. Don’t be afraid to (literally) think outside the box. I’ve seen planters made out of pretty much anything, including bathtubs, tea kettles, old sinks, tool boxes, a child’s wagon, old work boots — even a canoe!

If your container is solid, just add dirt and plant as usual. Line loosely woven baskets with plastic bags and or wire baskets with coir fiber, sphagnum moss or decorative spanish moss to hold in moisture.

Go Vertical:
You can grow succulents in any planter, but if you’re really tight on space, try planting up.

Start with a thrift store picture frame and some succulent cuttings that catch your eye. The set-up on this project is a bit more involved than the bike basket planter, so I’ve included a tutorial here.

Once you get the frame assembled, the succulents themselves are super easy to care for. They store their own water, so they’ll thrive in poor soil and desert conditions…or in the home of somebody who habitually forgets to water them.

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