Landscaping With Children: A Cautionary Tale

O with rake.JPG

Everything was going fine until the dirt started flying.

It was a beautiful early April afternoon. The temperature was only in the upper seventies and the sky was a piercing blue. Early April is typically late Spring in Florida, when the mercury in the thermometer starts to push its way toward ninety almost every afternoon and the prospect of six full months of simmering heat and dampness begins to haunt my thoughts.

So, on such a fine day, there was little choice but to rush outside immediately after we returned home from picking up the kindergartner on his weekly early dismissal day. Or, rather, remain outside because we walked home from school. I will admit that the walking from school thing is pretty great. Even though on this day I made the walk to the school pushing two small children in our double stroller with two bicycles piled on top.

The nice weather day could not have come at a better time because we had a small landscaping project we were itching to get started on. Just kidding about the small part. In my book, there’s no such thing as a small landscaping project. All such projects are torture.

Particularly when kids are involved.

Sure, when such projects are finally done, there is some small measure of satisfaction (or at least a few cute pictures of children holding miniature gardening tools), but it’s kind of like running or working out in that all the enjoyment comes after the task is completed. Having landscaped is much more fun than landscaping.

We had constructed an impressive pile of mulch bags against the side of our house because the big home and hardware store nearby had a mulch sale the preceding few days. My wife and I took turns loading up the trunks of our cars with wet bags of processed wood. We just kept going back and buying more for some reason. Ultimately, the store workers began to suspect we were running an elaborate mulch black market scam.

Our landscaping plan was a solid one. The idea was to weed and rake out a small area in our side yard with the idea of mulching it and perhaps adding some small plants (ones that don’t require much or any care/maintenance and are difficult to kill, preferably) and a stone step path leading from the driveway to the backyard gate.



One problem. I forgot how miserable it is trying to do projects with kids around. The four- and six-year-olds were fine (when they weren’t fighting over tools or eviscerating my design choices), but the toddler was a disaster. Her primary contribution was grabbing handfuls of dirt, sneaking up on her brothers, and tossing the dirt onto their backs. Of course, this went over swimmingly.

Things got worse when my six-year-old figured out we were planning to mulch the entire side yard. You might remember from a picture I shared a while back on social media that the area in question is our dirt pit.

Why mess with perfection?

Why mess with perfection?

In other words, our children’s favorite play area. Needless to say, my son was devastated that the primary dirt pit was being transformed (don’t worry, there are secondary and tertiary dirt pits scattered around the yard).

To appease him and save my sanity, I suggested that he could pick out a couple flowering plants to plant around his favorite tree to pair with his one bag of hideous red mulch. Shockingly, he mostly accepted this offer. We were back on track!

Side project looking amazing

Side project looking amazing

Later that night, after the work was done (well, like one-tenth of it) while my six-year-old was lying in his bed and I was lying on the floor beside his bed (as one does), he leaned over, looked down at me in the dark and said, “You can decide tomorrow if we’re going to go buy my flowers tomorrow or another day.”

I thought about responding with a quip about how I run things around here, so duh, but I decided to remain silent because...


I had been worrying all afternoon about how I was probably going to have to lug all the kids to the giant hardware store the next day by myself and buy flowers of all things. What a nightmare. I was so relieved. Parenting and landscaping are so great.

If you love this post, I have some good news. My book, Fatherhood: Dispatches From the Early Years, is available at Amazon. And if you haven’t, don’t forget to like my Facebook page and sign up for the email list.