As Safe As Gardens…

Thursday, 10 November 2011

As we at Vialii waddle into our third trimester, our minds are turning towards making our house child friendly. Whilst relegating our trendy shell door-curtains and glass coffee tables to the attic may delight our friends who already have kids who can’t relax round ours for fear of something being broken, it’s made us think about what really needs to be changed for our little one’s arrival. Does Baby Burt really mean that our home has to be all safety measures and no style? And how do we create a child friendly garden?

Creating a child friendly garden for the whole family to enjoy

Creating a garden for the whole family to enjoy

Of course you can be both stylish and safe. There will of course be certain common sense action to be taken but your child should be able to share your existing world without too much upheaval (well other than the sleepless nights from here on in!) This of course applies to your garden too. Whilst having a huge expanse of lawn may be perfect for kicking a ball about, is it the answer for creating a space for the WHOLE family? And will it encourage a passion for nature or foster their imagination? How can you encourage social interaction and be educational? Here are our tips to how to create a child friendly garden which is still a beautiful, relaxing place for adults and doesn’t compromise your style…

Water

OK, let’s tackle the big taboo of gardens straight away – water. We have a pond in our garden and so many people have asked when we will be getting rid of it for the little one arriving. The short answer is we’re not. We are of course going to take some safety measures (we can hear our friends rejoice!) We will be purchasing a grid which is made bespoke and will sit just under the surface of the pond. Plants can still grow up through the grid and wildlife can still enjoy the water. However children (and other little animals like hedgehogs) can’t fall into the water. Technically, the grid can be walked over (great as a party trick!) but we don’t recommend doing this in front of the kids in case they think all ponds work like this. For us, keeping water in the garden is important for lots of reasons – it looks stylish, it adds another feature to the garden and of course attracts wildlife. We will also use the pond as an educational tool for Baby Burt. We want them to be able to get close to nature but also, importantly, understand the danger of water and how to respect it.

Making water features safe

Making water features safe

Having a pond may not be your thing, or you may not have the space or it. However, it’s worth considering a smaller water feature – anything from a rusty spout shooting out water to trendy metal spheres which gently spurt water can be placed anywhere in the garden. It will provide a relaxing sound, attract wildlife and children just love playing with water, filling cups and pouring it back in.

Play Areas

Now, garden toys are an area where we struggle to engage with the wide variety of mass produced plastic apparatus which seems to find its way into many family gardens. And don’t get us started on the dreaded trampoline! Of course, if that’s your thing then fine but there are lots of other options available which can be even more stimulating for children. And aesthetically, these options can fit into the most stylish of gardens so you don’t need to compromise your space.

Create raised beds using chunky timber sleepers which can be used as sand pit while your children are young. A lid can be constructed for the top to keep the sand clean (and local cats out!) When your child outgrows the sand pit, encourage their interest in gardening but turning it into a veg bed, starting off with carrots to take advantage of the sandy base!

Children love stepping stones and these can be placed anywhere around your garden – in lawn, in gravel paths, through borders. Think about creating interesting patterns using the stepping stones. As an alternative to stepping stones, consider setting short logs on their end for kids to run along. Or introducing small boulders can have the same effect and then be turned into a rock garden at a later date.

Children marching on stepping stones

Children marching on stepping stones

If you have big old trees in your garden, use these to create play areas for kids. Is there anything more romantic than a rustic old swing hanging from a tree? Or hang a knotted rope for kids to climb and swing from. Feeling handy? How about creating a tree house? Take care to ensure that the tree is strong enough to support those who will be playing on it (big kids too!)

On A Budget

We are already discovering how expensive kids can be but with a little imagination, you can create fun areas for the kids in the garden with very little money at all:

Create a den using a sheet hung over your washing line (or hang a new washing line if the existing one doesn’t suit).

A home made den can be a lot of fun]

A home made den can be a lot of fun

Ask your local timber yard if they have any chunks of old tree trunk which you could use in your garden for kids to sit or climb on.
If your child shows an interest in your garden, be sure to encourage it. Start them off growing seeds on your window sill and show them how that translates to plants growing outside. Perhaps they would like their own area to look after to grow flowers, herbs and veg or they would just like to potter with you. Educate children on plants to avoid for their thorns, stings or that are poisonous to eat. Introduce them to the wildlife in the garden from the good wildlife such as frogs, hedgehogs and ladybirds to the less wanted ones such as slugs, snails and greenfly.  You don’t need a lot of space of fancy containers to grow your plants. Everything from bags and old watering cans to scrapped sinks and even old boots can be used to grow plants!

Boots can be great planters

Boots can be great planters

Create a wildlife tower using lots of recycled materials. Old timbers can be used to create the structure which children can then help you fill with various materials such as bamboo canes, old egg cartons, broken bits of slate or old straw packing. Not only will it be a fun project to make, you and your family can then keep an eye on what wildlife it then attracts into your garden.
Grand Plans

If you have bigger expectations (and budget) then consider one of the following ideas…

Instead of buying plastic toys look at investing in or building something using natural materials. There are some fantastic wooden dens and tree houses on the market. Some can be pricey but keep an eye on eBay, Gumtree or Freecycle where people are often looking to get rid of something their little ones have outgrown.

At the 2008 Chelsea Flower Show, Marshall’s created a garden that Kids Really Want. Introduce tunnels, rock stacks and dens along with dense planting to create an area which wont fail to fire your child’s imagination.

The Kids Really Want garden

The Kids Really Want garden

Turn your deck into a ship wreck by throwing up some rope pulls and climbing nets. Make sure there’s a comfy landing though! When kids have outgrown it just lower the Jolly Roger!
We are huge fans of Charles Jencks’ work and especially love his land forms. We know how much kids love running around these spirals and you don’t need the biggest garden in the world to introduce one into your garden. Reduce the height to around 6ft tall so that it’s still safe for kids to climb and ensure the slopes are gentle enough. Not only will kids love running up and down the land forms you will have your very own art installation in your garden.

Charles Jencks' Landforms

Charles Jencks’ Landforms

Creating a Journey

Even the smallest of gardens can be designed cleverly to create journeys which kids will love to explore and spend hours running around. Our own front garden, whilst not designed for kids, has swirling paths which we have discovered kids just love. They chase each other in circles or are intrigued with the bench under the tree or the topiary balls hanging from the shepherd’s crooks. If you have a bigger garden, create a woodland area with paths running through barked beds which can be filled with trees and shrubs. You know your children will be safe but they will think they are being allowed freedom as they hide in the “wilderness” and spend time with nature.

A small garden with interesting paths and seating can entertain kids

A small garden with interesting paths and seating can entertain kids

So next time you are pondering a plastic chute hopefully you will think about the other possibilities open to you and choose a solution which favours the planet, your child and the harmony of your outdoor space.

Thanks for reading.

All at Vialii (especially the Bump!)


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