If cookie-cutter petunia beds, orderly vegetable rows and ho-hum window boxes just aren't your thing, don't despair. You can find unique garden ideas all around you, whether by going to specialty botanical gardens and children's parks, reading about herb gardens in antiquity or visiting art galleries that feature outdoor spaces.
Making botanical forts for you kids to hide out in can be as fun for you as it is for them. One classic idea, the vine-covered tepee, starts with three sturdy stakes planted 1 foot into the ground and joined at the top with twine. Around each pole, plant five seeds of a fast-growing, vining plants, such as green beans, butter beans, scarlet runner beans, nasturtiums or morning glories. For a bigger fort, make a sunflower house. Grow a square or rectangular shape with "walls" of tall sunflowers, and use one a vining plant above to cover the spaces between the sunflowers and even provide a roof. The tops of sunflowers can be tied together at about the 5-foot mark to make an even sturdier roof for the vines to scramble over.
Gardener and innkeeper Patricia Lanza enchants guests with a "pizza garden"---a circle divided into several "slices" with each slice devoted to a different kind of Italian herb or vegetable. Not only is the small garden devoted to growing herbs which taste great on pizza, but it also actually looks like a pizza. Good plant choices for the "slices" include oregano, basil, parsley, tomatoes, peppers, thyme, garlic and eggplant.
As with her pizza garden, Lanza's butterfly garden offers a double witticism. Not only does the garden feature butterfly-attracting plants, but it is shaped like a butterfly as well. Among the plants which you could plant in your butterfly garden are bee balm, thyme, yarrow, dianthus, parsley and lantana. Arrange the paths, flowers and herbs in swirls, dots or whatever strikes your fancy. The garden can be just a few feet across to backyard sized.
Take a cue from Medieval and colonial gardeners and devote individual yard spaces to specialty gardens. Herbs and perennial flowers make especially great hobby gardens---plants for dyeing, plants for medicine and plants mentioned in Shakespeare or the Bible are popular herb garden choices. You can even get creative and try to hunt down plants mentioned by your favorite author, or feature plants native to your favorite country.
You don't have to be a trained artists to create works of garden art. Make a bottle tree by nailing beautiful wine or water bottles to a post or attaching it to rebar and anchoring it in the ground. This Southern tradition, brought here by African slaves, emerged as a way to trap evil spirits in the bottles. You can also experiment with cement or hypertufa---a mixture of concrete, vermiculite and peat moss---to make free-form structures or use an existing object as a form. A concrete "easy chair" with moss "stuffing" spilling from its seams may not be for everyone, but it certainly makes a great conversation piece.