Lewis Williams is a professional Garden Designer in Yorkshire. He completed horticulture qualifications with the Royal Horticultural Society, before going on to study an FdA in Garden Design, graduating with Distinction, and setting up Lewis Williams Gardens.
There are lots of well-known benefits to children by spending time and playing outside; keeping fit, getting their vitamin D quota, learning, and developing creative skills and building confidence, amongst others. But, if you are looking to create a garden that is both safe and fun for children, but still good for the adults as well, here are a few tips for designing gardens for families.
Remove any toxic or dangerous plants
You might have just moved into a new house, and therefore will have inherited whatever plants the previous garden-owner planted. Many very common plants are toxic if ingested, and children should always be taught never to play with, or especially not eat, plants in the garden. In addition, some plants can be skin irritants and cause allergic reactions, so get rid if you feel this poses a risk. The RHS has a list of potentially dangerous plants https://www.rhs.org.uk/advice/profile?pid=524 and you could always hire a knowedgeable gardener or garden designer to audit the garden for you.
Above: Euphorbias are brilliant garden plants, but the sap is a serious skin irritant can cause eye damage.
2. Don’t abandon all hope of a stylish garden
A child friendly garden doesn’t have to be bereft of any style. In a smaller garden, try and avoid fixed structures for children, and instead opt for collapsable games that can be stored away. For a bigger garden, there are many suppliers of in-ground trampolines if you have the space (and these could also be partially obscured with planting) which are less of an eye-sore, and safer than above ground versions. Have features for children that are made of materials that suit the garden and its surroundings- there are some attractive timber products available for children’s play which look great in a rural setting or less formal garden. More robust plants can be used directly next to areas where balls may be kicked around, but in other less demanding situations, attractive planting acts as a magnet for bees and butterflies, providing something for all the family to appreciate.
Above: One of Plum Play’s in-ground trampolines.
3. Get children involved in the garden
Bulb planting and seed sowing are fun activities that can get children involved in the act of gardening, and help them learn about the natural world. Annuals such as Cosmos and Nigella are pretty much foolproof, cheap to buy, grow quickly and look interesting. They can also then be incorporated in the main areas of planting within the garden, perhaps filling any gaps you might have. Fancy having a go at grow-your-own? Various studies have shown children are much more likely to eat fruit and veg that has been home-grown. Build a bug hotel and install bird feeders to attract wildlife. Easily accessible, open water features might be a no-no for very young children, but even a small, safe water feature is a magnet for wildlife and so a great source of interest for slightly older kids.
Above: Bug hotels can be created quite easily. And they don’t need to be as big as this one.
4. Think adaptability
Children lose interest and outgrow things fairly quickly, so try and create features which can be reinvented once they have lost their appeal. A sandpit could become an area of planting, or even a firepit for the adults. Leaving gaps between shrubs can be used to hide in and create dens, but later, additional planting can be added to fill the gaps. As with the earlier point, try and design in some storage and choose items which can be put away and stored (and perhaps later sold or handed on) rather than permanent, built features. This goes hand in hand with more thought provoking play items where children can create their own games. Being more based on imagination and less prescriptive than fixed items, this is a good way to aid development of creativity and problem-solving skills.
Above: Earthwrights natural loose parts building kit. Flexible and also much more attractive than a pile of coloured plastic.
I can provide garden designs suitable for families, or just for big kids…If you need help designing your family-friendly garden, please get in touch for an initial, informal discussion as to how I can help create your ideal space.
Lewis Williams Gardens. Garden Designer in Shipley covering Bingley, Baildon, Halifax, Ilkley, Skipton, Wakefield and all the surrounding areas.