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.
In smaller gardens it 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 qualities often appreciated by parents.
When the whole garden is to be used by both adults and children, there are certain problems. Ball games andhave a certain attraction, and a ball in the middle of a treasured 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 shrubwill offer a range of 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 ( ), 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 (Carpinus betulus), 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 ornamental lawns just 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. 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.
Water is an essential in child’s play. A rain barrel neatly painted to suit the house will prove useful in many ways. A tap in the garden means that you will be left in peace in the house and water games played outdoors! You will also have a good source of soft water for your house plants and flower arrangements. Place the barrel beneath a rainwater, pipe and be sure to include the overflow pipe. Best way to do this is to make a hole in the centre of the floor of the barrel. In this fix tightly a length of galvanised iron tubing which comes just below the top of the barrel. This will mean not only that the barrel does not overflow in time of heavy rain, but that any insects, larvae or debris floating on the top are sucked down into the drain below.
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.
Garden Plants for Children to Grow
Child gardening can be so much fun and very rewarding – most children enjoy growing garden plants from seed and space should be left for plant beds. The emphasis will be on quickly germinating seeds, often annuals, which produce a lot of growth and flower within a few weeks. Vegetables are sometimes grown, such as mustard and cress, raddish or lettuce. All grow quickly and have the added advantage of being safely edible making them ideal for child gardening.
The range of flowers to grow is wide, but an initial selection can be made from those flowers which the small child can play with.
Antirrhinums can provide endless fun for ‘nipping’ noses, and double daisies (Bellis perennis ‘Flore-pleno’ ) can be grown to provide material for daisy chains. Foxgloves (Digitalis purpurea ) make tiny gloves for dolls, and nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus) leaves make dolls’ hats.
Children usually like to see results quickly. For this reason, a few varieties of annuals should be provided as they give a range of flowers throughout the summer.. Some of the easiest to grow, and which flower in a short time, are: Calendula; Linum; Linaria, and Viscaria. Some seeds of these subjects can be mixed up together, and the whole be sown on one patch or area, to provide a colourful display.
Good kinds of annuals to try include mignonette (Reseda odorata), with long-lasting spikes of scented yellowish flowers, clarkia with pink, lilac or purple flowers, the multicoloured candytuft (Iberis umbellata), love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena) with its blue spiky flowers, and Chinese lanterns (Physalis franchetii) with orange ‘balloons’. The last two can be dried, painted or sprayed to make Christmas decorations.
Amongst other plants which appeal to children are those that change with the time of day or type of weather. The morning glory (Ipomoea tricolor) will rapidly grow up a wall and its blue and white flowers open early in the morning and close by mid-afternoon. The Californian poppy (Eschscholzia californica) is another example, having brilliant red or orange flowers which open and close during the day. Mesembryanthemums, daisies and thistles are all plants that will not open their flowers in damp or rainy weather.
Gourds are unusual plants that will appeal to children because of their quick growth; they produce a range of strangely coloured and shaped fruit that can be dried and varnished to retain their colour. Loofahs and giant sunflowers can also readily be grown from seed; sow indoors at the end of May and later transfer outside to a sheltered corner.
Although growing annuals can be great fun, children will enjoy planting a tree and watching it grow. Do remember that fully grown trees can take up a great deal of space and may cut out sunlight from house and garden. Smaller trees: birch, whitebeam (Sorbus aria), alders, crab apples (Malus), or snake-bark maples (Acer grosseri hersii and A. pennsylvanicum) suit most children’s gardens and grow fast enough for the children to measure regularly. Larger trees can be raised from seed, horse-chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) from conkers and oaks (Quercus) from acorns.
Remember that some leaves, flowers,fruit and seeds can be poisonous. Ensure that you always properly supervise the younger child. Gardening with older children is a little easier but they should still always be warned of the dangers.