Gardens can be magical places for children. Contrary to what many people believe, a child-friendly garden does not have to be expensive or an eyesore. With a little bit of thought, the demands of childhood, learning and play, little and large, can all easily be incorporated into a garden whilst retaining beauty and form. The result should be a garden with space and interest for all – whether young child, adolescent teenager or mature adult!!
These are simply a few jottings based on our experience of designing child-friendly gardens. The aim is to spark your imagination and inspire you to create a garden which you and your children will both love!
- Stepping stones through a border seem to draw young children like bees to a honeypot….
- Think about ways of creating lots of little interesting routes and paths around the garden, with hidden pockets of interest
- Consider planting a few dense shrubs in a corner of the garden – fantastic for children who are mad on creating their own dens
- Inspire them early… children love to feel grown up so why not give them their very own growing areas, whether for flowers, vegetables, or herbs. If you’re short of space, a large unused pot or container can work just as well.
- Play equipment. Yes, this is not going to disappear. If your children have a lot of play equipment, and you have the space, it might be better in a separate play area, with a play bark or rubber bark floor surface. Then you can include vertical logs, climbing frames, slides, swings, and even ropes and pulleys.
- Living tunnels and wigwams (made from Willow), are not only fun for children, but also attractive and educational
- Mirrors, chalk boards (using a bit of left over slate maybe) and colourful pots could all be incorporated into a hidey-hole for children.
- Special little seats – perhaps mushrooms or staddle stones – can make a child feel special, perfect for the grandchildren!
- Think about the senses too – rustling grasses, scented plants, vibrant colours, bubbling water…
- Think about encouraging bugs, birds and animals – children will love to check up on insect hotels, bird feeders, hedgehog homes etc.
- A level area of lawn for the footie or cricket pitch is often a top priority. Needless to say, nearby plants need to be suitably robust!
- And yes, trampolines are difficult to lose in a garden, but children never seem to outgrow them…..nor do a few adults! Sinking the trampoline is one possibility if you’re keen to minimise the impact – or draw the eye away by clever use of trellis/planting.
- Teenagers will love somewhere they can escape on their own or with friends. Consider a secluded hammock if you have suitable trees.
There are, of course, a few safety issues to consider too when designing a garden with children in mind:
- Sloping gardens can have retaining walls with dangerous drops. Consider having two drops rather than one (i.e. a bit of mini terracing) so that each drop is lower in height. Also think about installing trellis or balustrades on the retaining walls to make them safer. Sometimes, just having a planted border at the top of the wall is sufficient to stop children wandering too close to the edge.
- Water. You can never be too cautious in terms of water and children. Many parents don’t want any form of standing water in their garden, and many new grandparents rush to fence off their established ponds. But ponds can also be made much safer by installing a grid within the pond. A simple bubbling water feature with no standing water is safe and appeals to young and old.
- Plants. It goes without saying that prickly plants near areas where children will be running around are not a fantastic idea. Plants with highly poisonous berries are also best avoided.