Child Gardening – Designing Children’s Gardens
Gardens and children are not always complementary: the energy, noise and activity of young members of a family (plus their friends, bikes and pets) can arouse in many an adult a desire to ‘banish’ them to the bottom of the garden. Younger children will, however, need some supervision so for those families with a large garden there are two options – either a place near the house for watching over smaller children, or one as far away as possible for older children who value independence.
Init is perhaps too hopeful to try to restrict children to one corner, and so the whole garden must be designed to allow children’s play without ruining the aesthetic qualifies often appreciated by parents.
When the whole garden is to be used by both adults and children, there are certain problems. Ball games and greenhouses have a certain attraction, and a ball in the middle of a treasured flower bed will not be appreciated. If you avoid these obvious conflicts it will still be possible to have an attractive and practical garden.
Plants to Withstand Play from the Young Child
Gardening with children in mind is easy – remember tough shrubs can also be pretty; escallonias, viburnums, olearias, philadelphus, cotoneasters and shrub roses will offer a range of flowers and foliage, whilst shrubs with coloured foliage such as the purple-leaved hazel (Corylus maxima ‘Purpurea’ ), the golden elder (Sambucus nigra ‘Aurea’ ), or the smoke tree (Cotinus coggygria), will provide colourful focal points through-out the summer.
These and many other shrubs can stand quite hard treatment, but with a teenage family it could be advantageous to plant a high proportion of trees. Although obviously spiny trees and shrubs will discourage children, many of these tend to be slow growing. It is far better to accept some degree of accidental damage and plant multi-stemmed trees, such as birch (Betulus), alder (Alnus) or hornbeam (), so that even if part of the tree is injured the rest will survive to form an attractive clump.
Constant use of the lawn by children will soon produce bare patches. The fine grasses found in ornamentaljust can’t cope with much activity, so it is advisable to oversow with ryegrass or, if starting from scratch, to use a seed mix containing a large proportion of this grass. An alternative approach, which would also reduce maintenance, is to eliminate part of the lawn and replace it with a hard surface which could be used for games throughout the year.
Designing Children’s Gardens
Cycles used in a garden can cause havoc, particularly to the lawn and shrub beds. To reduce their impact build a path in a material that can withstand this sort of treatment, with ramps to take up changes in level and kerbs or low walls, where necessary, to protect fragile plant beds.
In a large garden it may be advantageous to provide one corner especially for children; if sufficient space and activities are provided this may reduce their temptation to run wild in the more precious ornamental areas. And it may be all the better to allow the children to plan their own corner and ‘help’ lay it out. Depending on the age of the children a sunny, sheltered spot near the house is preferable, although elsewhere the children’s area can be screened from draughts by hedges, walls or fences.
Children’s gardens often contain a sand pit, as this is usually popular with smaller children and on a domestic scale is relatively easy to keep clean. It should be as large as possible, preferably with an open-jointed brick bottom to allow free drainage. The sides can be brick, concrete or wood. Small swings and slides can be located within the sand area to keep damage caused by falls to a minimum.
To avoid a sand pit becoming a regularly shaped element in an informal garden it can be surrounded by smooth rounded boulders which will also be used for imaginative play. A small-scale, easily constructed alternative design for a sand pit is an old tractor tyre filled with sand. Do remember that regular washing of the sand will reduce health hazards from cats and dogs. Cover it when not in use.
Many people feel children prefer games they invent themselves. Building their own equipment can be fun, and helped by a parent and finding inspiration from an existing tree, older children can build their own fort or tree house from reject materials. Barrels, ladders, wooden planks, ropes and natural changes in level can all be exploited, but because this type of play is often thought to be untidy, such an ‘adventure’ area is usually best sited some distance from the house.