Does Your Outdoor Play Environment Need Some Design Creativity?

If your outdoor play area needs an extreme makeover and you don't know a dandelion from delphinium, expert help may be closer than you think! Garden clubs, Co-operative Extension offices, and garden centers are great resources for free advice and assistance.

If your knowledge of garden plants is limited, don't despair. Many resources in your community are available to help you create a more interesting outdoor play space for young children. Is there a garden club or a garden center in your area? Garden club members love to share their expertise about plantings and often are willing to help with the actual design and installation of plant materials. They may even offer to bring along plants to share. Larger garden centers usually have design staff on their team and will provide free design services if you purchase the plants through them. Ask to see a portfolio of their jobs so that you can get a sense of their ability to plan and plant spaces.

If you are in a rural or suburban area, find out if the county Co-operative Extension office has a Master Gardener program. Master gardeners have received extra training in gardening and often are looking for volunteer projects. Some Co-operative Extension offices even have a gardening hotline you can call to have your gardening and plant questions researched for free. In addition, some of these offices have developed technical assistance notebooks and a variety of articles on gardening.

Ask around your center to see if anyone knows a gardener, landscape architect or horticulturalist. All three specialties can be useful to you in putting together the outdoor planting plan. Landscape architects can provide drawings and sketches -- some are gardeners themselves and have a large knowledge base of plants. Horticulturalists study plants, and as such, would be expert on locating different species of plants or knowing how plants will behave under certain conditions. Gardeners in your community are often a great resource, too, since they have practical experience as to what plants will grow in your local weather zone and with your existing soil conditions. Don't overlook other possible community resources, such as local or regional arboretums, nature centers, community gardens, design schools and universities.

There are several gardening web sites you will find useful. Dave's Garden,, was launched in 2000 as the first interactive gardening web site. This site has useful articles, informative short videos, and an extensive plant database with more than a half-million photos. A sister site is, which focuses on information specific to a user's growing region. Another useful site was created by a Co-Operative Extension office and has links to hundreds of other gardening sites: An equally helpful gardening site is

While these resources will give you plenty of information about plant material, you will need to be the team member who is the expert on how children use plant material outdoors.  Robin Moore's book, Plants for Play, is the best resource on this topic.

So, look around and tap into these resources for help in creating more interesting plantings in your outdoor environment.