So last month, before my brother, his amazing wife, and our three youngest nieces showed up at our house 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.)
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 arrive, so they can be a part of it.