PLAY TIME Add some fun

Here are some tips from the American Nursery and Landscape Association and National Gardening Association on how to add whimsy and fun to your gardens:
Add playful plants. Plant a bed or large bowl of red, white and blue flowers that burst into bloom around the Fourth of July. Plant a rainbow garden, shaping plants in rows and colors to simulate the rainbow, adding a pot of golden-colored marigolds at the end of the rainbow. Or, plant sunshine-yellow flowers in the shape of a smiley face. Children love these projects.
Some plants have built-in amusing personalities. The Sentimental Blue balloon massed in a perennial bed; kids -- and adults -- love to touch the fuzzy, silvery-green leaves. Impatiens produce fat seed pods that are fun to pop and watch explode.
Sunflowers can't be beat for sunny-side smiles. Perennial hibiscus with cheerful 10-inch blooms brighten any yard.
Surprise also is an important ingredient of humor. Hellebores fits that slot. Imagine waking up in gloomy January or February to see their flowers cheering you in the winter garden.
Look for offbeat objects, or make them yourself. Create plaster casts of children's hands, and stick 4-foot-long pieces of iron rebar or plastic pipe in them while they are hardening. Stick these in the ground and have the birds eating out of your hands, so to speak.
Turn unusual objects into containers for plants. Just make sure the containers have good drainage holes, or use the containers merely to hold potted plants that can be changed out seasonally.
Structural elements such as gazebos, trellises and arbors also create a fairy-tale setting in your backyard. Position a trellis or arbor so it entices people to walk through it to see something wonderful on the other side; avoid plopping it out in the open yard. Soften structures with small ornamental trees and vines; accent them with nice pieces of garden art. You decorate the inside of your home with art -- why not your outdoor rooms? Tuck pieces among shrubs, or at the curves in walkways as surprises.
Never, never think your garden has to stay static -- the same year after year. Use annuals, flowering vines and container plants to change its mood, its color, its theme.
Let your garden bring out the child in you. It's the place where you can shed all your adult-like worries and ways.

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