Children’s Play Equipment and Pools for the Garden
If you have a young family, the chances are that one of the most important requirements of your garden is that it should be a place where the children can play constructively, safely and for long periods of time without getting bored. There should be the facilities for them that will avoid the eternal cry of ‘I’m bored — I don’t know what to do’.
Of course, children should be encouraged to use their imagination when playing, and often they gain greater enjoyment from a game of their own invention than from pounds’ worth of sophisticated equipment. It is the old story of the box being played with more than the toy that it contained. But it can be useful in the long term to provide areas and facilities that are the domain of the children, on the understanding that they steer clear of theor the that are father’s pride and joy.
Under fives particularly enjoy the basic, all-time favourites — sand and water. Allowing them to indulge their strong urge to feel, touch and play with these elements helps them to develop an understanding of the relation of their own body to the world around them.
You will want to keep a watchful eye on children of this age, and so it is practical to plan a sand pit near to the house — perhaps as a feature to one side of the patio. It can take the form of a free-standing plastic tray that could be emptied when not in use or a built-in construction that can later be converted to an ornamental pool. This should have allowance forof rainwater. It helps to have a flat surface beside the sand pit where children can sit or line up a row of sand pies.
It is essential to use the fine, washed silver sand for playing, not the yellow builder’s variety, for this would tread and stick and cause yellow staining on children, house and garden. It is also a good idea to make a timber cover for the sand pit to prevent it from becoming a haven for cats, at night. A cover also comes in useful from the aspects of safety and appearance if you want to use the garden for a more sophisticated, adult barbecue after dark.
Paddling and swimming pools
When it comes to the introduction of water for play, the way in which you do this will probably depend on two factors — cost and space. If you have strictly limited supplies of both, then all is not lost. Toddlers can be quite happy playing in their now disused baby bath. There is space for paddling, and floating boats and other toys.
The next stage is a small paddling pool that can be placed on the patio and filled with water when the weather is suitable, and emptied at the end of the day. The inflatable variety are not really ideal; they are exhausting to inflate and easily susceptible to damage. A better design is a plastic pool with a collapsible, folding surround that can quickly and easily be unfolded ready for filling straight away.
A full scale below-ground swimming pool is great fun for all the family. Owning your own is, however, a real luxury and comes at luxury prices. A properly constructed concrete or vinyl liner pool will cost several thousand pounds including accessories, and regular running costs will also be incurred.
Closer to the reach of most people is an above ground pool that is large enough for the children — and even their parents — to splash about in on a hot day and also, very importantly, sufficiently large for young children to learn to swim. In fact, they should never be allowed to play unattended in a pool of this size unless they are able to swim properly. There are various types of pool available, made from either plastic in a rigid moulded form, or PVC sheeting on a metal frame. They can be installed and fitted for the summer, and stored away during winter months.
Position your pool in the garden where it will receive maximum sunlight, so that the water — and you — will keep as warm as possible. Avoid the proximity of tree branches.
Children’s Play Areas
For older children who do not need to be kept under a watchful eye whilst playing, it is a good idea to set aside an area of the garden where they can do as they please within reason. This may not be possible in a very small garden, but where space permits it can help to lead to a peaceful co-existence between members of the family.
It is probably best for parents to resign themselves to the fact that a play area is unlikely to remain clean and tidy for long. Plan, therefore, for the ornamental part of the garden to be close to the house, and the play area in a less obtrusive position.
Sophisticated play equipment can be extremely expensive to buy and install, and children tend to grow out of it, as well as tiring of familiar games for periods of time. It can, therefore, be preferable, as we have said, to consider installing basic, multi-purpose items that become the starting point for any number of games and situations. In our experience children have a natural inclination towards the impromptu, exciting idea. Left to their own devices, they — exasperatingly at times — have no room for the concept that because a toy has cost a great deal, it must be played with at every opportunity.
An element of danger also appeals, although we would not suggest you would allow them to put themselves in any real danger of injury. It is simply that an old car tyre suspended by a rope from a sturdy tree branch can be more exciting than a shining new piece of equipment. Another idea is to position upright logs firmly, so that youngsters can have fun jumping from one to another. Narrower timber stakes can be placed vertically, with their ends concreted into the ground, to form a palisade that will become anything from a wild west fort to a battleship. A rope ladder can also be fixed to a sturdy tree branch.
Very conscientious parents who are confident of their children’s good sense — and head for heights may even build a tree platform or house. Choose a strong position for it; the ideal place is in the centre of the tree, where the main branches meet.
Children love to have their own garden ‘hideaway’. The addition of a shed, or hut to the play area will provide shelter and a storage space, both for bikes and larger toys and for the numerous grubby little items that they cannot bear to, throw away and you cannot bear to have in the house!
Choosing a ground surface for the play area can be difficult. Grass tends to become a mud flat in wet weather, although it is a pleasant, soft surface on which to play. Moreover grass is unlikely to survive at all on the ground immediately beneath play equipment in frequent use.
Paving is more serviceable, but will also inflict more cuts and bruises on the inevitable occasions of falls and tumbles. Pea shingle can be quite a good compromise, although this may tend to be scuffed into other parts of the garden.
It is encouraging if you can persuade children to see the garden as something more than a playground, by developing their interest in plants and. They will be more likely to respect your own efforts to create a pleasant environment or to grow fresh fruit and vegetables, if they have experience of growing for themselves.
Set aside a plot that can be used as the children’s own garden. Here they can sow seeds, plant bulbs and indulge in their own brand of decoration. Children are impatient, and will want to see a good return for their efforts, so it is a good idea for them to sow seeds that will grow quickly and easily like radish, or will produce a spectacular plant like sunflowers or nasturtiums. The garden can be decorated with shells and coloured pebbles from the beach, twigs made into flags and numerous other applications of everyday outdoor objects.
There is a wealth of life in the garden that is fascinating to observe and enjoy. Birdsong is one of the most delightful sounds of nature, and garden birds can be very interesting creatures.
It is easy for gardeners to complain about the damage that birds can cause to crops being cultivated with loving care, but on balance birds do more good than harm. Nearly all the smaller wild birds live on insects and their larvae during summer months, and thus help to control harmful pests.
The balance between successful cultivation of your garden and the enjoyment of the birds that visit it will be better maintained if you provide a suitable supply of food and water. Hungry birds are more likely to cause mischief! However, it is not very sensible to go out of your way to attract birds to your garden if you have a cat.
A bird table can take the simple form of a wooden tray mounted on a pole some 4ft high, 18in of which should be fixed in the ground. This should be placed in an open position nine or ten feet away from hedges and bushes, to prevent cats from lurking near it. Garden birds like to eat household scraps, particularly fat meat, including bacon rind, and shredded suet; ensure that the meat has been cooked. Brown bread is popular, and also cheese, but do not put out more than can be eaten in one day to avoid attracting rats and mice. Nuts, in the form of cob-nuts, peanuts or coconuts will be eaten avidly — not only by tits — but avoid hanging out a coconut during the nesting season, as the young birds are unable to digest it.
Berries and flower seeds also attract birds. If you grow michaelmas daisies and sunflowers, do not cut the dead flowers in autumn, but allow them to remain as a source of food. Thrushes and blackbirds are particularly fond of berries, and these supply food during the lean winter months. Suitable berry bearing trees and shrubs include, rowan, hawthorn, contoneaster, berberis and .
Birds also appreciate a source or clean water in which to bathe all through the year. Ideally, it should be in a large, saucer shaped container so that they can walk in and out of the water. You may even find that they are attracted to a small garden pond.
Small birds may be induced to make their nest in your garden if you put out a nesting box at the appropriate time of year — about the middle of March. Make the box of wood, about 10in high with a sloping lid decreasing to 8in at the front.
A round hole in the front of the box of 11in diameter will attract nuthatches, tree sparrows, blue tits or great tits to make their nest there, and a larger square opening will be preferred by robins.
Fix the box to a tree or a wall, facing away from the midday sun. If birds nest in it, they will probably produce several clutches of eggs during the season. They should be disturbed as little as possible, and certainly neither the adult bird sitting on the eggs, nor the eggs themselves nor the fledglings should be touched.
Although less spectacular than birds, butterflies and bees can also be attracted to your garden if the right plants are grown. A common name for buddleia is the butterfly flower, because butterflies — in particular the Red Admiral — are attracted to its large, heavily perfumed blooms. But they are also attracted to ivy and to the blossom of pear, plum and apple trees. Thistles and nettles are haunts of the Red Admiral and Comma butterflies, but few people would consider the cultivation of these in their garden a desirable feature.
Bees are attracted to flowers that produce pollen profusely. If there are beehives near your garden, you will be doing their owner a service by growing such flowers, since a bee is said to make three journeys to bring one drop of nectar to the hive.
Flowers beloved by bees are often perfumed, and also often blue in colour. They include forget-me-not, foxglove, campanula, scabious, honeysuckle and hollyhocks of the summer flowers, and wallflowers and heathers are favourites at other times of year.