"Every child needs a garden
By Ruth and John Lopez
and a small animal to tend"
-- George Washinton Carver
Well, how about a small animal garden? Grow lions, tigers, and kangaroos in
a backyard zoo! How? Turn your garden into a zoo of plants with animal
names. Some are enormous, some are tiny. Some are a little wild, some are
rather gentle. Often, plants are named after an animal because some part
of the plant reminds us of that animal. For example, it might be something
about the color, such as tiger lily's tiger like colors. Some plants are
named after animals because of their shape (snail vine) or the way they
"behave" (piggy back plant).
As zookeeper, children can be in charge of caring for their plant animals.
They will need to water them, and feed them with a little organic
fertilizer once in a while. When you visit a real zoo you'll notice that
special habitats have been created for each animal. These habitats try to
imitate the animal's natural environment by providing cool air and water
for animals that live near the north pole, or warm sandy places for animals
that live in deserts. Just like animals, plants need habitats that meet
their needs. Kids will need to find out whether a plant likes sun or
shade, damp soil or dry soil, and so on.
Create Your Zoo
Create an outdoor zoo and invite friends over to see your collection. Here
are some suggestions for a zoo garden:
Give Your child the tactile experience of a soft, woolly lamb's ear.
Lamb's ears (Stachys byzantina) feels just like the real thing, with ear
shaped leaves. The soft silver-white leaves of Lamb's ears spread out 2 or
3 feet to form a ground cover that will grow in any climate zone, and in
sun or light shade. It needs little water but is not quite drought
Dogwood (Cornus sp.) Some varieties of this small tree or shrub are best
loved for their wonderful 'bark'. It's not the sound of the bark, but
rather the color of the bark that attracts attention! Some dogwoods have
spectacular red branches that stand out in winter, especially against snow.
Dogwoods are deciduous shrubs or small trees that grow best under the
shade of taller trees. Dogwoods need little water once they are
established and since there are many varieties of them, there is bound to
be one that grows well in your area.
Your zoo might include Foxglove. Have you ever seen a fox wearing gloves?
It has been said that fairies would give these flowers to foxes to wear so
that they could quietly sneak into the chicken coop. Pick five foxglove
flowers (Digitalis purpurea) and slip them onto the ends of your fingers.
It feels a little like wearing the soft fingertips of a glove. The flowers
grow in a bunch along a stalk. They bloom all summer long and will grow in
sun or part shade anywhere. They don't need too much water, and often will
reseed themselves and grow without any assistance at all. Foxglove is a
plant that can sometimes help people and sometimes hurt people. Foxglove
contains a chemical that can help people with heart troubles, but foxglove
is also poisonous and no part of the plant should ever be eaten. (Note: A
child should always be taught to ask an adult before tasting any plants)
Bunny ears These bunnies (Opuntia microdasys) grow in warm winter
climates only. They are cactus plants with 6 inch pads that are velvety
soft green with neatly spaced bristles. Small round new pads on top of
larger old pads gives the plant a silhouette of a rabbit's head.
You don't have to hatch eggs to get Hens and Chicks in your zoo garden.
Echeveria imbricata is a succulent plant that grows in the shape of a
large rose flower called rosettes. Baby plants spring up freely in
clusters near the mother plant, hence the mother hen with her baby chicks
all around. Bell shaped little orange flowers form on slender stems.
Plants are very drought tolerant.
Horsetail Most of these 'horses' run wild in meadows, marshes and along
roadsides. Some may even come into your garden as weeds. The bushy whorls
of slender stems that radiate out from a main stem look like a horse's
tail. Millions of years ago horsetails (Equisetum hyemale) grew sixty
feet tall, like trees. Horsetails today don't usually grow taller than
Say hello to the kangaroo and shake his paw. The flowers of Kangaroo paw
(Anigozanthos flavidus) are tubular and curved at the tip, like a paw.
What's more, the flowers feel like suede leather or like an animal's hide.
Kangaroo paw is native to Australia. Being of Australian origin this plant
will not survive winters colder than 20Â°, but they like the sun and are
drought tolerant once established.
Lion's tail (Leonotis leonurus) has tubular, 2 inch long deep orange
flowers which are covered with fine fur like hairs. Flowers are assembled
on dense whorls and look like a lion's tail. Blooms summer to fall in
full sun. Lion's tail is drought tolerant and hardy to 13Â°.
In the early spring, when snow is still on the ground, hundreds of pussy
cats come out to play in the willow trees. The 'pussies' are really flower
buds called catkins on the Pussy willow tree(Salix discolor). Touch one.
It feels just like the soft fur of a real kitten. Soon the catkins will
open and you will see tiny yellow flowers emerge. If you want to keep the
pussies all year, cut some branches in spring before the catkins open. The
buds will stay on the cut branches as soft pussies and never open up.
Tiger lilies (Lilium tigrinum) were once kept in gardens, just as tigers
are kept in zoos, but some of them escaped and grow wild now along streams,
fields, and roadsides. Tiger lilies are orange, like tigers, but instead
of stripes they have black spots. They will grow in any part of the
country. If you want to grow tiger lilies in your garden, plant the bulbs
in fall and your beastly plants will bloom the following spring.
Every zoo garden needs a Leopard's bane (Doronicum). Here's a perennial
that blooms in the shade. It grows happiest under the dappled shade of
deciduous trees. Flowers are showy and yellow on long stems. Leaves are
dark green and heart shaped. Give it good soil and average water.
Snail Vine (Vigna caracalla) This perennial vine looks like a pole bean
until you see the flowers. The twisted flowers petals are coiled like a
snail shell. Dozens of snail flowers cling to the vine. Not only are they
are beautiful, they won't chew the leaves! Keep these snails in full sun
and give them ample water.
Your zoo garden will probably need some garden markers to help identify the
plants. Make garden markers by cutting out pictures from old Ranger Rick
or National Geographic magazines. Glue the picture to a square of poster
board and write the name of the plant on it. Cover the sign with a
laminating sheet to protect it from the rain, and attach the sign to a
wooden stake or popsickle stick with a staple gun.
About the Authors
Ruth and John Lopez are committed to providing resources for garden based education.
You can visit them at their site Gardens for Growing People
where they have resources, curriculum, books and many more activities. They also have a free
newsletter you can subscribe to.
Article copyright 2000 Ruth and John Lopez