Last month, before our three youngest nieces showed up for their annual December visit, I tried my hand at creating a miniature forest, of sorts. I started with a shallow black TubTrug (but you could use other colors) and put about an inch of gravel on the bottom, then potting soil.
For the plants, I started hunting for specimens that looked like—our could be made to look like—miniature trees. After surveying my backyard, I cut a branch off a jade plant and pruned it to look more open and tree-like. I placed it at the back of the container. The small, lush Selaginella plants I found at a nearby nursery. And I tucked in a few cuttings from my Sedum rupestre 'Angelina' plants. (Note: Some houseplants are toxic, so you'll want to be sure to select kid-friendly specimens. Nursery staff should be able to help, but you can also type the plant name into Google to double-check.)
The girls range from barely seven to almost two-years-old. And fortunately, the creation was a hit with all three. The youngest was the biggest fan. She is a busy, busy toddler. But she'd plop herself down next to it and run her hands over the plants, and pick up and examine the rocks and the dragons. I was afraid she'd start throwing the rocks out of the container, but that only happened once. I explained the dragons needed the rocks for their home and she was pretty good after that. (But I'm not pushing my luck. Next time I'll be using larger rocks like these—much easier to clean up than tiny pebbles.)
I included airplants (Tillandsia) in Cholla cacti skeletons with a bit of moss so the kids could pick them up and move them around. I did buy three adorable dragon figurines, making sure they were too large to be swallowed. But I didn't make sure they were durable enough. One of the dragon's necks snapped in two, luckily a surgery involving some super-glue saved it, but I don't like our odds of not breaking it again. (I wish I could say it was one of the kids that broke it, but it was me. Nice job, Auntie Amy.)
Definitely going to create one of these again. Next time I'll gather the materials before the kids arrive, but hold off assembling it until after they get here, so they can be a part of it.
Amy John Headley is a landscape designer based in San Francisco.