There’s good news, for all of you with kids; having children doesn’t mean you have to have a garden wasteland full of plastic toys! Here are 5 Tips to consider when planning your families child-friendly garden:
Most importantly you need to consider their safety first and that will depend on the age of your children.
If you have toddlers, then ideally don’t have water, not even a bucket or a water butt, as small children can drown in a few inches. However older children get a lot from a pond like watching tadpoles develop into frogs, counting pond skaters and seeing a dragon fly is always a magical moment. What’s fine for one might not be for another child, so trust your instinct, you know your children best.
Soft Landings and keeping an eye
Young children also need a certain amount of containment so you can keep an eye on them. A barrier will keep different areas of the garden contained. If you can lay out your garden, in order to allow a temporary boundary (just like a stair gate) that’s ideal, as they aren’t little for very long. A low hedge, woven hazel hurdles, dense shrubs or low wall will do.
Last year, I designed a child-friendly garden for a childminder, who wanted a safe outdoor space for her little charges. We used a gate and planters to contain the patio area closest to the house, filling the planters with colourful non-toxic & hardy plants. Creating a low maintenance space which was great for toys. Then it could be turned into an adult space at the weekends, by swapping the toys, with a table and chairs.
Make sure to add a soft landing, all parents know that if they go up, they may well come down via the express route. So, make sure their landings, are as soft as possible. Lawn is good, as are bark chips. You can also get rubber landing mats for slides and jigsaw foam matting is handy, especially over concrete or patio areas.
When planning what plants to add to your child-friendly garden, then consider the following. If you have young children then plants with berries are best avoided, oh so tempting. It’s also worth avoiding thorny plants; Roses, Pyracantha, Mahonia, Holly, Berberis etc. Unlikely to do much harm but it saves a mini-medical drama, right? The best advice that I can give is to check what you already have in the garden, just in case, then only buy new plants that are safe (most are, and they are labelled). If in any doubt get advice – any good garden centre will have staff who can tell you what is safe.
Also, when planning your planting have these considerations in mind; as well as avoiding toxic plants, it’s also worth avoiding delicate plants. Roses and peonies are lovely, but their blooms will be instantly destroyed if a ball smashes into them. If you can, it’s worth planning your borders with some strategically placed ball-proof shrubs, positioned in the goal zone and corners. Good options are Pittosporum, Choisya, Yew, Euonymus, Cypress, Laurel and Camellia.
Gardening as Play
Perhaps the best way to teach your little ones to appreciate your garden and to have a truly child-friendly garden, is by helping them engage with it at an early age. Dedicate an area where they can create mud-pies and grow things; fast growing plants and seeds like nasturtiums and sunflowers are great being both quick and fairly hardy. You can have great fun measuring, labelling and watering a garden as well as eating it, if you choose edible options. Teach them about pollinating insects too; bees, hover flies, butterflies etc. The BBC has some great ideas on how to inspire play in the garden.
You could then position their garden in the football zone, after all it’s never too early to teach kids about consequences, right? However, who wants to be warning their kids endlessly off garden destruction? My advice – relax, grow what you like and be prepared for a few casualties, after all most plants will re-grow their damaged parts, windows not so much.
Plastic play equipment is ugly but weather-proof, if you can’t hide it then timber options always look better but are generally more expensive. Unless you’re a bit handy, in which case there are loads of great ideas and instructions in books and online. Consider how many years play these elements will get, before spending too much money.
The current trend, of avoiding plastic, means there’s a busy second-hand market for play items. So it may be worth checking local reselling sites or mum’s groups to avoid more plastic or recycling what’s available. Also consider elements in your garden as play equipment in itself, a good strong tree is perfect for a tyre swing or a rope. Depending on the size and terrain of your garden, creative landscaping can introduce tunnels, sheltered areas or natural elements like a woven willow wigwam.
If you have children under 5, then you will probably get around 5 years play out of wendy houses, climbing frames and slides, dependent on the age gaps. If your children are nearly teenagers, then a more private, sheltered place to sit may be a better investment.
A simple shed, with some clever additions, may work as a wendy house in the early years and as a teenage den later. It’s also worth thinking about how it will be used – are you happy for the children to be unsupervised? A den at the bottom of the garden is great for older children but would need to be in the line for sight for younger children. If you decide on major landscaping work it can be useful to run power points and lighting to play areas as well, oh an WIFI for teenagers.
I recently designed a bespoke storage shed for a client which doubles as a pirate ship. The idea being in the future when the kids have outgrown it, it can be ‘de-rigged’ so it’s just a shed.
Zoning Your Garden
As I’ve already mentioned when they are little it’s worth having a safe, contained zone close to the house. Ideally temporary so it doesn’t restrict your access when they are older.
Then you want to plan a play zone for ball games, slides and trampolines etc. further from the house (windows). Once they are old enough, it is good to screen these off from view, if you can. You can also sink trampolines supports, so the bounce zone is at ground level. However it’s recommended that, you should still have a net, which you can remove when not in use.
As your children get older, they will want to play away from you, and you’ll want an area to relax with a drink and entertain without needing to be constantly vigilant. Teenagers will also want a relaxing zone that’s away from the grown-ups. So plan out, how part of the play zone, can be adapted at a later stage.
If you have the space, create a Wild Zone with longer grass, wildflowers, hidden areas for dens can be wonderful and it’s fantastic habitat too!
A Desert of Lawn
Also when creating your child-friendly garden, please don’t fall into the trap of emptying the garden of plants in order to make as much lawn as possible. This creates a very boring looking garden and can make the space appear even smaller. If your garden isn’t large enough for ball games, you can’t change that. Give your children a different sort of fun: playing hide-and-seek or growing sunflowers. There’s always the local park for a kick about or going on country walks together.
If all these suggestions make you feel overwhelming and your just not sure where to start, then don’t worry we can help. Just call Design Heights for a free consultation, to discuss how we can help optimise your garden space for you AND the kids. We also design and create; child appropriate planting schemes if that’s all you require.
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