Fun Outdoor Projects For Young At Heart

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The Fourth of July inspired me to create a fun, patriotic garden centerpiece for my patio table. This project was so simple, my 2-year-old even helped with the painting and assembly.

I started with the least-expensive terra cotta pots that I could find. These small pots are cheap and perfect for children's first attempts at painting creativity. For my project I decided on a flag theme on three pots, in cascading size and assorted shapes, to create a tiered fountain of red, white and blue flowers.

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The Fourth of July inspired me to create a fun, patriotic garden centerpiece for my patio table. This project was so simple, my 2-year-old even helped with the painting and assembly.

If you're feeling a little queasy about your painting skills, don't over-think it. Just glance at one of the hand-painted pots at your local retailer, probably painted overseas in Asia, take notice of all of its flaws, and realize that perfection is not the goal, but rather the overall whimsical, fun burst of color, and loose pattern that will provide a background for the true art -- the summer flowers of your choice.

To begin, purchase basic craft acrylic paints in the colors of your choice, and a high-gloss acrylic sealer (brush on or spray). Terra cotta is extremely absorptive and will soak in water from the soil and bubble up the acrylic paint unless you seal the inside of the pot with the acrylic sealer first.

I applied three coats of the sealer and allowed it to dry (this happens very quickly in our dry heat). Then I decided on a pattern for my three pots, and after dressing my toddler in a smock and plopping him on a plastic drop cloth with his own 25-cent pot, a paint brush, and plate of paint, we both dove into our creative projects.

The stripes were simple enough, I found it best to start with the white first, as it went on thinner, and dried faster, thus avoiding pink stripes once the red was applied over top.

I have never been great at painting stars, there are just too many straight lines, so rather than using a foam stamp (which is another fun tool to use with your kids), I decided on white five-petaled daisies to replace the stars, overtop a cobalt blue base paint, still giving the impression of stars, while corresponding with our garden theme.

Their simple, organic shape is very easy to master with a small round or flathead brush. My smallest pot, I base coated a cherry red, and then added one single white daisy for a little modern whimsy. I had my toddler help with the centers of each daisy, dolloping a bright yellow spot in the center of each flower.

After each pot dried, I sprayed on more acrylic sealer over the painted surface.

Now my boy and I were ready to really get our hands dirty. I purchased several $2 six packs of summer annuals that are drought- and heat-resistant in corresponding patriotic colors.

Five-petal white vinca were perfect for the white stars, while the deep fuchsia vincas were close enough in color to the cherry red of my striped pots. I also picked out some bright red celosia (or cock's comb) for extra texture and height, and some beautiful blue lobelia for their petite deep blue blooms, and dark full cascading leaves.

I even found a faded remnant of a miniature blue delphinium on the clearance shelf for a little added variety, and the beautiful spring bloom still had a little life left in it. Since the Fourth was just days away, I planted the centerpiece fairly tightly, to achieve a full abundant look, however, if creating your piece early enough, space the plants properly, and with proper care and watering, the flowers should fill in very nicely within a matter of days.

Container gardens can get really stressed and dried out in the early summer heat, so be sure to water daily, and if your piece is getting blasted by late afternoon sun, move it to a more shaded location. Once your special event is over, the flowers can be transplanted to your garden beds, where watering, while still important, is not required as frequently. Vincas and celosia will thrive throughout the heat of the summer as long as they are kept watered, and both are more drought-tolerant than most annuals. One small vinca plug should grow into a very nice cluster of flowers up to a foot in circumference.

This tiered planting project can also take on the shape of a cake, and is thus perfect for outdoor birthday parties and showers, just pick appropriate colors and have fun with shape and pattern, try stripes, checks, polka dots or plaid.

Have fun with your kids, and create their own precious hand-painted bud pots to give away as gifts to teachers, grandma and neighbors.

They too can try their hand at polka dots and stripes, or else use foam stamps, little handprints, or their own finger-painting. Just be sure to get your hands dirty and let your kids get dirty too, creating fun and memories while also adding whimsy to your patio garden.

Sarah McAnerny is a designer and partner in Tre Sorell Home Designs and lives in Pine. She can be reached at wwwtresorellehomedesigns.com

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