American Girl DIY play garden

American Girl GardenYou never know when a crafter’s inspiration will strike. Sometimes it’s by necessity when you realize something would make your life so much easier, but these days most of my inspiration comes from adding play value to my kids’ toys. Crafting with them to make the toys they already own more fun to play with, as well as adding some extra learning opportunities, has proven to be a really fun way to bond. The more fun they have playing with their toys, the longer they stay on one single activity, which makes me a much happier mama and makes for a much cleaner house.

Recently, I was inspired after visiting the American Girl store and seeing all of the newest summer items released this year for Kit. With a new gardening outfit, accessories, and an adorable garden stand, I wanted to make something for my kids that would complement the new items, as well as enhance their play and add some fun learning opportunities as well.American Girl GardenI decided to make a little DIY play garden for them that ended up adding hours to their imaginative play, and makes the new items even more exciting. Using very little brand new items and instead utilizing what we already had on hand, I made this whole project with under $10, and it’s added so much more than that in play value already. American Girl Garden Aerial viewThe best thing about the garden is its versatility. Because you are using faux plants and fabric instead of dirt and seedlings, it can be stored indoors and hidden away when not in use. It also means that you can change up the garden whenever inspiration strikes.American Girl GardenThe garden can be used for a variety of play scenarios, from learning about plants and how they grow to imagining your dolls are running a bustling farm that sells its goods at the farmer’s market. We love that the garden works with the foods we already have, so instead of building a massive pantry in our doll kitchen to house all our food, some of our veggies and fruits can simply be stored in the garden and harvested just in time for dinner, just like our own backyard garden. American Girl GardenSince the kids are enthralled with all things homesteading and especially fond of the historical dolls, this garden works beautifully with all their American Girl dolls – from current characters to dolls with their roots in the early 1800s. It may have been inspired by Kit, but in no way is it limited to her specific story line. We’ve had fun making a “victory garden” for Molly, a southern garden for Josefina, an urban garden for Z, and a beautiful flower garden to inspire Tenney’s music. American Girl Garden

To make the garden

American Girl garden supplies

You will need

A 3-sided box or tray for your garden base

Faux plants {and veggies and fruits, if you desire}

Faux leather fabric in brown

Pliers

Wire coil or chicken wire

Scissors

Stapler

Garden accessories

Making the American Girl DIY play garden

To start with, you will need a 3-sided box or tray. For a more rustic look, you could go with a shallow crate, you can use a shadow box frame, or you can use a decorative stand like we did and simply flip it upside down. Our copper-colored $3 clearance find at Hobby Lobby was the perfect garden box as it was inspired by history. Because copper doesn’t rust, and can withstand heat and cold temperatures, it is ideal for gardening and has been used for centuries. The use of copper in the 1934s for gardening was at an all-time high, which just so happens to be during Kit Kittredge’s time, so I thought it was fitting that her garden bed be copper instead of wood. Copper is especially ideal for garden beds because copper can keep snails and slugs from entering your garden so your harvest is not devoured by garden pests. While our fictitional garden doesn’t really have “pests”, I liked using a historically accurate planting bed and teaching the kids about the benefits of copper as part of our play.

But, for me, the best part about using the copper-inspired box is that I can actually still use it in decorating if I’d like because it fits well with our decor and nothing in the garden is permanent or hard to remove. American Girl Garden box

After you have your garden bed, you need to create a grid or grate that can help give your fabric structure. You can use chicken wire for this, or you can buy metal grates at the store, or you can simply DIY a grid out of wire like we did. We added a few wooden sticks in as well to give it some rigidity, but you don’t need to add those unless you would like to. Since the garden won’t have to withstand a ton of impact, this grid is just to give it some dimension and make it easy to “plant” in. It may not be pretty, but it works.American Girl Garden grid

Once your grid is finished, it’s time to cover it with “dirt”, or in this case, faux brown leather. You could use felt or actual leather, but we found pleather to be the best at retaining its shape and keeping “plants” upright in the garden. To make our “dirt” we simply laid the pleather out over the grid and folded it like we were wrapping a present, then stapling it when it was in the correct position. American Girl Garden clothThis stapled fabric will now cover your grid and provide your garden “dirt” to plant in. Don’t worry about how it looks on the bottom as it will be hidden in the box, so feel free to leave any excess fabric to add even more stability to your design. Place this over the grid and then place in your garden bed.

American Girl GardenNext, you have to make small cuts in the pleather to hold your faux plants in the garden. Start really, really small with these cuts as you don’t need big gaping holes to plant into. Since most faux plants have really small stems, you want small holes so the plants aren’t too loose or they won’t stand up correctly in the garden bed.

American Girl Garden piercingNext is the fun part: “planting” your garden with whatever veggies, fruits, or flowers you would like. You can use a row-like pattern, or you can simply place plants wherever they fit – there’s no rules in the garden, even fake gardens. American Girl garden plantingFor our garden, we gathered an assortment of faux stems, leaves, and discards to make our plants. You can find these at thrift stores, and you can walk around your own house and “harvest” some stems from your existing faux foliage. American Girl Garden PlantsSince faux succulents are everywhere these days, I started there and realized how great they looked for plant starts for American Girl. I especially love the ones that look like lettuce since we’ve never had a lettuce option in our American Girl play. American Girl Garden plantsPlace all of your stems in your garden and it’s ready for play.American Girl garden bedAfter that, you can add your faux veggies and fruits so you can “harvest” them for your garden stand and for meals.American Girl garden American Girl garden American Girl garden American Girl garden American Girl garden American Girl garden American Girl garden My kids absolutely love harvesting their garden and I love seeing them filling crates with their garden spoils. But, the best part about the garden is that it can be “replanted” over and over again, using whatever plants you would like. You can re-imagine your garden in different ways for different seasons, or you can create something fanciful, like a fairy garden. American Girl Garden with KitOverall, the garden has been a rousing success, and I’m so glad we made it happen during the summer when we’re tending to our own garden so we could use the parallels between our urban garden and Kit’s. I can already see that the garden is going to get a ton of playtime each year, no matter which dolls are the current favorite, which means that we’ve just added a ton of play to toys we already own. And, really, that’s my absolute favorite type of craft to make.

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