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Little Saplings – Secret Spaces: How to Bring Fantasy into Your Everyday Garden

And now something for those with little ones. Ruth Steinberg, founder of Little, is committed to helping kids find a love of gardening. I had the pleasure of meeting her electronically awhile back, but when we finally met in person, I could see that her enthusiasm for gardening with children was infectious. She specializes in fostering curiosity and play in the garden, and she’s here today to share her story and some ideas for doing the same with your little saplings. Here’s Ruth:

Being the garden-master at my child’s school, I walk around as the maintenance maiden, snooping and doing damage control after recess. I really encourage our children to create little nooks inside the flower beds mirroring the spaces that exist inside their imaginations—and wow—what beautiful miniature fairy gardens and hiding forts I am lucky to have visited!

Images provided by Ruth Steinberg

Born in South Africa, I was fortunate to have grown up in the rambling gardens of our beautiful old Cape Dutch home, a place where magic happened. Our garden lay under a tall entwined purple and fuchsia canopy of bougainvillea and Jacaranda.

I have since re-visited this place of my inspiration and even though I was young and small, the trees were still absolutely magnanimous. The gardens wild in style, had planted areas of primula, daffodils and other seasonal southern bulbs growing under that Jacaranda carpet a-buzzing with bees. Cascading ponds at the end of the garden were full of fish and frogs. Two huge mulberry trees grew down to the ground leaving dark cozy shelters around their trunks, our secret house away from annoying brothers! A tree house fort was a place to plan our secret missions and boy did we ever! I feel that was such a charmed time in my life.

My South African background has been the inspiration for the ‘feel’ and philosophy of Little Saplings- Children’s gardens. The garden is the place that children feel so in charge of things, of their feelings and fantasies. Many a time while teaching kids in pre-school, a crying child will find their way into the garden and find solace with me even though we are strangers; the garden is a naturally enticing comfort zone to most kids.

Kids Show Us the Way
Wherever in your yard your child leads will probably be the place they have chosen for their secret childhood space. No use in spending time and money creating elaborate areas of structures and supports if only for your ‘bigger garden picture’. I approach the little client as the ‘leader’. I let them show me their garden—we chat of how and what they play!


Some children are afraid to go outside, of the bugs and other ‘natural demons’. My work is to make the child comfortable. Some children will not go far from the back door and will stay on the dry concrete space—that is when I try to bring the garden to them! We will create a little circular green space around the comfort area, a Mandala where they can ‘enter’ and be rulers of their area there they build confidence enough to make friends with the flying visitors.

Working with children in the garden has brought immense joy. The way children perceive the outdoors is a constant reminder of how comforted we can be by our imaginations. The adventures that evolve when children create play spaces in a garden are forever transporting. In the school yard play area or the personal backyard gardens, children are able to connect with nature in ways that we spend lifetimes trying to reawaken.

Ruth Steinberg of Little Saplings

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