For many of us, our gardens are a pride and joy, with every inch of our lawns painstakingly weeded and carefully co-ordinated flower selections potted up on the peripheries. But, while we all want our outdoor space to look it's very best when you have little ones on the loose, you need to make a few changes to accommodate their freedom and curiosity in the garden.
Nicky Roeber is the Horticultural Expert at gardening supply specialist, Wyevale Garden Centres. Here, he explains how to create a garden suitable for your children to grow up in.
1) Make a dedicated play area
A garden should be a place of rest and relaxation for any adult, but your children will see it differently. Setting up space specifically for the kids allows them their own freedom to do what they want, as well as keeping them pre-occupied when the BBQ is being fired up or you’re finally trying to get your head buried in that new book!
This space could include a play area, with equipment like swings and slides or a classic climbing frame. There are playsets available in many materials, including timber and plastic, so you’ll be able to find something to match your garden’s aesthetic. Accommodate these spaces laying down some padded rubber playground flooring, but make sure it’s still in view so you can keep a close eye on your little ones.
Wendy houses are also a great investment and can be used for storage when they no longer see it as a play den. Deck it out with touch wall-lights, tables and chairs and soft furnishings to make it their very own hang-out spot — perfect for the summer when your kids need shielding from the sun.
Striking the balance between a garden for adults and children will have massive benefits for both of you, so grab the bark chippings and get hands-on too.
2) Secure the borders
Not only is this important for stopping unwanted trespassers, but fencing off the area or adding lockable gates where the front and back gardens connect can save you a lot of worries when it comes to your kids, too. Whether it’s to stop your child wandering off to explore, or going to retrieve balls from neighbours’ gardens unannounced, cordoning off your garden from surrounding areas will ensure they’re always close by.
This doesn’t have to mean spoiling your beautiful garden with ghastly metal fencing, but instead, you could line the garden with large plants that are practically impossible to escape around. But, be careful not to choose any potentially hazardous greenery that has thorns or prickles — no matter how well that budding rosebush complements your garden style!
3) Use the garden as a teaching tool
The garden can be a handy way to teach your kids about their senses by introducing them to the touch, feel, smell and sight of various plants and wildlife in the outdoors. There are no set ways to do this, but this could include the following:
Pick a couple of plants that make a sound, like bamboo stems which will create a noise when air passes through, or even installing a windchime. You could even introduce a water feature like a trickling fountain to add to their sound bank.
You can get really inventive with this, as there are so many plants with different textures to get hands-on with. From the silky soft petals of peonies to the bristles of lavender plants and the touch of various types of soil, your child can experience a whole range of textures from the comfort of their own garden. But, again, be careful not to let anything grow that could be harmful to them, like nettles.
Gardens are usually full of floral and herby smells. Encourage your child to explore a variety of different smells and be sure to tell them the names of each plant to add to their vocabulary. Try planting some fragrant jasmine and lavender at nose-height for them to begin with.
There are plants out there in almost every colour and shape, so there’s plenty for your child to take in if you cultivate a few different species. Beautiful plants and flowers in your garden will spark their interest and encourage them to learn more about the world they live in.
There are plenty of fruits and vegetables that can be grown at home, including apples and berries and greens like celery and pea pods, so be sure to take advantage of the summer weather to get these planted. Involving your child in the daily watering and maintenance of these will help to feed their curiosity and educate them on the growing process — they'll definitely be one step ahead of the science class!
4) Change it as they grow
Your garden won’t always need to be full of play equipment and balls, especially as your children’s interests change, so be prepared to give the outdoor space a refresh to suit their needs. Things as simple as switching out swings and slides for a DIY rounders or football pitch or giving them their own space to plant fruit and vegetables can make all the difference and encourage the kids to spend more time outside.
5) Take precautionary measures
There are many hazards and risks that can appear in a garden setting, such as accidentally planting poisonous flowers and plants or forgetting to place netting over the pond. Thankfully, there is usually a simple solution to keep the kids out of harm's way.
Keep your little ones safe by locking up any gardening tools so they're out of sight to reduce the risk of any major injury and accidents. If you’re planning on kitting out your garden with decking, make sure it’s anti-slip to reduce the likelihood of tears and the time you spend with the first aid kit!
Kids love being active outdoors come rain or shine, and by putting safety measures in place for your garden, you can ensure everyone can enjoy themselves.