The sun is shining and all future palaeontologists should be outside, and this dinosaur garden is the perfect way to encourage outdoor play. Find out how to make your own little dinosaur park and which prehistoric plants will add to the appeal. Take your fairy garden to a prehistoric level with this dinosaur garden.
Patti’s New Activity
Name: Dinosaur garden
Activity: Planting and growing a dinosaur (fairy) garden
Dinosaurs: Whatever you fancy
Best for: Spending time in the garden
Ease: Very – from the planting and growing to creative play
Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links. We may earn a small commission if you use these links to make a purchase. Thank you! Please read our full disclosure for more information.
Why you want to make a dinosaur garden
Like fairy gardening, creating a dinosaur garden has so many benefits.
Spending time in the garden – whether planting or playing – helps reduce feelings of anxiety and stress. It is known to improve sleep quality at night and healthy bacteria in the soil helps you recharge and destress. Simply being out in the garden, in the sunshine, improves vitamin D levels. Vitamin D helps regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body. In fact, health professionals are recommending that many people take vitamin D to counteract the fact that they have been isolating for much of the last 12 to 18 months.
Dinosaur gardening can also be a way to introduce wannabe paleontologists to a number of new concepts:
- Entry-level gardening and caring for a garden, including planting plants
- Low-level landscape design and designing areas with purpose
- Prehistoric plants
- Possibly horticulture, if you decide to use edible plants.
The best thing about your dinosaur garden – about almost all dinosaur play – is it encourages imagination and creativity. Creating a dinosaur garden requires imagination. What ordinary objects can you turn into a feature in a dinosaur garden? What do dinosaurs need and how can you provide it? How do dinosaurs interact with their environment? Let your imagination “saur”.
Where should you build your dinosaur garden?
To make a dinosaur garden, you will need a large container. The easiest thing to use is a large flower pot. Ours was one that we originally used for herbs, but had not replanted since redoing our patio area.
Be creative and use something you have:
- An old sink
- A tyre
- A bath
- An old wheelbarrow
- A water trough
- A cut off water bottle from a water cooler
- A wooden box
- An old drawer
- A rusted beverage tub that is too nasty to use for its intended purpose
- Hey, even an old plastic story box (hello unused Samla box)
The only other thing to keep in mind is where it will live. Ideally, it will be outside and have enough space around it that your wannabe palaeontologist can play – for that is the aim.
Dinosaur paradise ideas: How to make a dinosaur garden
You don’t need much in your dinosaur garden in order for it to be a fun, interactive play space for your little dinosaur lover.
You need some plants (see below) and some dinosaurs. We purchased a cheap set of dinosaurs to use specifically in our garden, knowing that they would be exposed to the dirt and weather.
Other features are optional. What you include will depend on what you have on hand and what your “flower pot” will allow.
A water feature is great. It does not need to be actual water, though this would be possible with a small container or plastic sheeting if you have some leftover from another project. We decided to use some decorative stones and some blue aquarium gravel to make ours. Coloured glass stones work well too. Our LDA likes taking the Spinosaurus fishing.
To encourage play, we included a nursery, or as our LDA calls it, our dinosaur kindergarten (it literally means children’s garden). We had a broken flower pot that we used to create a small cave to keep the babies safe. Your dinosaur set might come with nests – ours came with hatchlings.
Do you remember the final scene in Jurassic World, where the T-Rex is standing on top of the control centre, roaring? The top of our cave is great for recreating this scene. If you don’t have a flower pot to create cave, add a large stone or stones to create the same effect.
If you work out how to add a volcano – without cheating and using a toy one – let me know!
Of course, we had to include a fossil pit for our wannabe palaeontologist. I know, dinosaurs did not fossilize until long after they died out. However, dinosaur graveyards (T-Rex nests) were a thing, right?
What kind of plants do you put in a dinosaur garden?
For the most part, the best plants for your dinosaur garden will depend on where your garden will be, i.e. what it is planted in and where it will stand. I am not a plant expert – I read the labels at the nursery – but here are some things to consider:
- Will the garden be inside or outside? Will it be in full sun or shade? Choose your plants to suit the location.
- Herbs and salads can work well – then your dinosaur garden will be edible, too!
- Avoid plants that have been sprayed iwth pesticides, dyes or anything similar. Your child will be playing with dinosaurs around these plants and we don’t want to activate any skin irritations or allergies.
- Steer away from poisonous plants. If you have allergies in the family, steer away from anything that is likely to set off those allergies.
- Choose low-maintenance plants.
- Try and use plants of varying heights and looks to make the garden more interesting.
We chose mostly succulents as our garden will be in full sun most of the day and the pot it is in is not all that deep. Succulents are low maintenance and forgiving – I will have to make sure that our Little Dinosaur Aficionado does not overwater them. There are lots of different types and looks, which works well for our garden.
What plants have been around since the time of dinosaurs?
Some plants have been around since dinosaurs roamed the Earth. While some are inappropriate – for reasons we will shares, others could take pride of place in your dinosaur garden. And which dinosaur lover wouldn’t like to boast that they had real dinosaur plants in their garden?
- Dutchman’s pipe: This plant, which has been around since the Cretaceous period, gets its name from the large, drooping flowers that look like big scoops or gat pipes. The flowers smell (bad!) in order to attract flies, which it traps in its flowers and covers in pollen before being let out again. The plant is now known to be poisonous, so it’s not one you want in your dinosaur garden.
- Cycad: Cycads were once more frequent and diverse than they are today. Typically, they have a stout, woody trunk with a crown of large, hard and stiff leaves. They will be too large for most dinosaur gardens.
- Ferns: Many types have been around since the dinosaurs. Stag horn ferns, whose leaves look like the name suggest, grow without soil. They prefer tropical climates. Rabbit foot and giant hare foot ferns (Davallia) are just as old and also enjoy tropical climates. These could work well in your dinosaur garden – but not in ours due to the level of sunlight. Hard ferns are perhaps the older plants of all: they have been around for 350 million years (even before the dinosaurs!). I know from experience that tree fees could work well, but they can get sunburnt.
- Protea: AKA sugar bushes, Protea are found in much of the southern hemisphere, but primarily South Africa. Some of their ancestors date back to the extinction of the dinosaurs and even earlier. The flowers are normally quote large, which is great for bouquets, but not as good for dinosaur gardens.
- Black pepper: Fossils of plants from the pepper family have been dated back to the Cretaceous period (145-100 MYA). Pepper is known to be an irritant, so it is another one you might want to leave out of your dinosaur garden.
- Allspice: This interesting flower also dates back to the Cretaceous period and smells like bubblegum. Unfortunately, it is poisonous…
- Horsetail restio or broom reed: Many a Triceratops and Ankylosaurus probably feasted on broom reed. This plant has stems like bamboo and soft, feathery, needle-like leaves. This plant is popular around swimming pools, water features and dams. If your dinosaur garden has a prominent water feature, you might want to consider some of Horsetail.
- Magnolia: This is one of my favourite flowers and it has been lovely to see it in bloom recently. Ancestors of the magnolia were around during the Cretaceous, when beetles pollinated them (there were no bees yet). Magnolia tend to make a mess when the flowers whither…
- Wollemi pine: This plant from the Jurassic period was thought long extinct until it was found again in 1994 in Australia. It can grow to up to 40 metres tall and is still very rare: not one you want in your dinosaur garden.
- Dawn redwood: This is another one that was only rediscovered in the 1940s in China, and can grown to 60 metres high.
- Ginkgo: I love ginkgo and was actually looking for one for our dinosaur garden. It is often called the “living fossil” as its ancestors lived before dinosaurs. Unfortunately, our local nursery did not have any available, but at least it would have liked the full sun.
- One large flower pot or container
- Enough potting mix to fill the flower pot or container
- A range of plants of your choice
- Small decorative stones
- Toy dinosaurs
- Blue stones or aquarium gravel
- A smaller (broken) flower pot
- A large rock
- Dinosaur fossil toys
- Gardening gloves
- A trowel
- Watering can
- Work out where you will put your dinosaur garden and place your large flower pot or container near its end position. It may be very heavy and difficult to move later.
- Fill the flower pot or container with potting mix until the soil is only a few centimetres below the top.
- Work out where you want to put each element of your garden to make sure you leave sufficient space. Place the plants etc in place to decide.
- If you are making a cave: Hit your small flower pot with a hammer until you have a nice arch piece. Place the arch where you wish to have it (rounded side up) and cover the sides and top of your cave with potting mix.
- If you are using a large stone, place it where you would like it.
- Pot each of the plants: dig a small hole approximately the same size as the plant's ball or roots. Loosen the roots and place the roots of the plant in your hole. Push potting mix around the ball of roots until the ball is covered and the plant is standing steadily.
- Place some of your smaller stones where you would like your "water feature" to be. Sprinkle generously with blue aquarium stones to give the effect of water.
- Place any additional smaller stones where you would like them to be, such as to create a nest or line your cave.
- Water your garden to help settle the soil and the plants.
- Put your dinosaurs in place and play!
The plants should be chosen to suit the level of sunlight the dinosaur garden will have. Bonus points if you use a plant that has been around since dinosaurs.
When potting the plants, think about how they will grow, leaving enough space between plants and allowing some to drape over the side of the flower pot or from the roof of your cave.
Create your own dinosaur paradise for hours of fun this summer
Follow these simple instructions on how to make a dinosaur garden and you’re little dinosaur fan will want to be outside having fun in their own dinosaur park You might have to ask them to tone down the roars!