Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Sandbox Garden

When we moved about a year and a half ago, we did so because we wanted to find our “forever home” before our daughter started elementary school.  It was important to us that we give her the chance to grow up with the friends she would make at school and not have to go through the experience of leaving her best buds if at all possible.   Obviously there were other factors we had to consider as well, but that one certainly drove the timing of our decision to move.   

One of the things I was looking for in a new home was a larger yard where I could stretch my gardening wings a bit more.  I wanted a yard big enough to allow my gardening interests to flourish but still coexist with a child’s inalienable right to play.  I wanted room for a collection of Japanese maples and a Wiffle ball field.  I wanted a yard big enough to grow watermelons in and to lay out a slip-n-slide at the same time.  In short, I wanted a little slice of Americana.    

So when I saw the sandbox beneath the fruitless mulberry tree - the same mulberry tree that had wooden steps nailed into the trunk and ropes hung from a sturdy limb to support a swing, I thought for sure that I had found a yard that would work for both me and my daughter.   

I took this picture on the day of the home inspection.  You can see the swing at left.
I think the yard, in general, looks really different already.

In the months since we moved in, my girl has climbed those wooden planks several times and stood inside the canopy of the mulberry tree.  She’s marveled at the new world from up there and she’s decided that living in a tree house would be “so cool”.  She’s also begged me to find a swing to hang from those ropes too.  A request I have tried and failed to fulfill.  But she never got interested in the sandbox like I thought she would.  Maybe it was the more than occasional cat poop we found.  Or the omnipresent spiders.  Maybe it was the hardened sand, the constant leaf litter, or the fact that she’s already too old for sandboxes . . . if there is such a thing as being too old for sandboxes.  She just didn’t seem to care about it one way or another which was amazing to me because I was a kid that spent days on end in a sandbox.    

On the Saturday before Father’s day, I found myself standing outside, just soaking things in; plotting my next steps.  After my eyes kept stopping on my own misplaced clutter, I determined it was past time to find places for the things I had brought from the old house.  First and foremost was the fountain my wife gave me when I turned 30 a year or two ago . . . give or take the better part of a decade.  Since the move, the fountain had been left out of the way and unfilled under the mulberry tree just because I didn’t have anywhere else to put it.  I would need the fountain to be close to an electrical outlet for the pump.  I would need level ground.  And I wanted it be away from the house because I had learned through experience that it tends to splash and leave hard water stains which are as hard to get rid of as glitter on your skin. 
Tangent: I overheard a guy say to his girlfriend in a craft store a few months ago “Glitter is the herpes of craft supplies.”  I’m pretty sure he adopted that line from a comedian, but I gave him due credit for making me laugh anyway.   
Given that one of the three outside outlets in our backyard is just feet from the sandbox it quickly dawned on me that the sandbox would be an ideal location.  But what would my little girl say to that?  I have seen her, several times, suddenly proclaim her rekindled affection for a toy or stuffed animal only after we decided to donate it to Good Will.  Would she suddenly have a hankering for sand castles or for finally embarking upon her long-planned digging expedition to China through the center of the earth?

The gap in the sidewalk was just wide enough to run the cord AND drip irrigation tubing.  Score!

I drilled a small hole at the base of the sandbox for the wiring and irrigation.

Clearly I was going to have to run it by her and get her buyoff.  So I asked her point blank, “are you gonna play in that thing ever again?” or something similarly eloquent.  And she said, basically, “of course not, Daddy.  I’m a more grown-up big-little-kid and I would prefer to do more productive and creative things with my time.”  So, with her permission, and with her help, we started digging out the sand.  It took a surprising amount of time since I didn’t just want to throw the sand away.  I could use the sand to level the pavers I had haphazardly placed as a walkway around the corner of the house.  So as we dug out the sandbox we also leveled the pavers (in the picture below).  That took us most of the afternoon - a long time to ask a 6-year-old to help you in the yard - but the two of us had a lot of fun working together especially since some of that work was just looking at the bugs that fled their homes when we unearthed them.

The smaller square rocks were leftover from a Tic Tac Toe game (using river rocks) that didn't get much use
after the first year so I repurposed them here.  They could use a cleaning, but I'm otherwise happy with the look.
On Father’s Day, after being spoiled with breakfast and coffee delivered to my lazy butt on the couch, my daughter accompanied me to the “rock store” (basically a quarry with a nursery attached to it) so we could buy a smooth paver to use as a base for the fountain.  Then we went to the nursery to pick out plants for our new sandbox garden. 

I took her to the shade plants section and basically said, “Anything you want we can get”.  She chose a couple good looking coleus plants and I picked a few ferns.   And together we planted them around the fountain.  One of the coleus plants lost a limb on the drive home so I showed her how we could put it into some water and it would grow roots of its own.  This was amazing to her (frankly, it’s amazing to me too).  As we worked side by side I got to listen to her daydream aloud about how we could sell coleus plants to people at a lemonade and flower stand. 

Our first "new" coleus is doing just fine.
We took cuttings from the other two types we bought and put them in a window sill in my man cave.

As far as Father’s Days goes, this last one was pretty great.  I am lucky to be a father and to get to spend time with my family.  And part of my fortune, I realized, is getting to see the world through the eyes of a child and discovering that it’s not always going to look the way I think it’s going to.  Sometimes that world is going to look like lemonade stands and plant sales instead of sandboxes.  And you can find happiness in either one.

A few shots of the new "sandbox garden":

Planted with asparagus ferns 'Myers', Japanese Spurge (Pachysandra terminalis), Silver Lady Fern (Blechnum gibbum), Coleus blumei 'Electric Lime', Coleua blumei 'Rustic Orange', and Coleus blumei 'Crimson Gold'.


  1. A very unique and refreshing sandbox garden...loved the creativity!!

  2. I just love the idea of a lemonade and coleus stand! Something for everyone :-) -Jean

  3. Wow, the fountain looks great! Looks like a perfect location by the back patio. Good job!