Creating a plot that children and parents will both enjoy is not easy. The key is to provide kids with space to play without filling it with garish toys, while setting aside a relaxing area for grown-ups to relax.
Combining play with planting
Research shows that children and adults benefit mentally and physically from being in a natural environment. So although it is tempting to buy a plastic swingset and set it in the center of the lawn, it may not be very beneficial for your children in the long run. Instead, surround play areas with plants that children will enjoy, such as cheerful sunflowers and those that attract butterflies.
Children’s interests change rapidly, and what they like one year will be passed over the next. Prevent boredom setting in by providing toys that are not permanent fixtures, and will seem new and exciting time after time. Tents are a great choice, appealing to all ages, and offering limitless opportunities for imaginative play. All you need is an area of lawn to pitch one on.
Growing fruit and vegetables allows children to take a real interest in gardening; sowing seeds and watching their plants grow gives young ones a real sense of achievement. Plastic sandboxes often languish unloved once the novelty has worn off, but one made from a raised bed can be converted into a small vegetable plot, the perfect size for little hands to tend their first crops.
Tip: Simple swings
You can make a simple swing from a thick rope attached securely to a sturdy tree branch. Tie an old tyre to it to make a traditional swing, checking that it will hold your child by swinging on it yourself first.
Alternatively, knot the rope at intervals for children to climb up. Adult supervision is always advisable when small children are using any type of play equipment.
Water and wildlife
If your children can swim and are old enough to understand the dangers of water, ponds offers more play opportunities than almost any other garden feature. They are easy to build and will soon attract a wealth of wildlife to your garden.
Small children can drown in just a few inches of water, so wait until yours are old enough to appreciate the dangers before installing a water feature. If you have older children with younger siblings, fit a custom-made metal grill over the water surface and sure it will take the weight of a child, should he or she fall.
As soon as your pond is installed, birds and small animals will visit to drink and bathe, and many other creatures will become permanent residents. Make sure the sides are sloped so they can get out if they fall in, and plant around the sides to provide them with cover and habitats.
Frogs and toads will be drawn to any pond, large or small, and in spring will fill the water with spawn. Other creatures to look out for include water beetles, pond skaters, water snails, newts, damselflies and dragonflies.
Plots for pets
Sharing your garden with pets can be a fun and fulfilling experience, and by catering for their needs, as well as your own, you can all live happily together in the same plot.
Small pets, such as guinea pigs and rabbits, are happiest in a secure run on a lawn. If you move the run every few days, you may even eliminate the need to mow the grass altogether.
Dogs that have free reign of the garden can present problems if they are not trained. Set aside a quiet area, such as behind a shed, for your dog to use as a toilet. After a few weeks, and treats for good behavior, he or she will only go there. Raised beds and borders edged with low hedging will also help deter your dog from rampaging through your favorite flowers.
Cats are not as easily trained as dogs, especially in their toilet habits. Encourage them to use a litter box, and deter them from using the borders by inserting short pieces of cane in the areas where they are likely to dig. Cats like bare soil, so these are the areas to concentrate on.
“Boisterous dogs can devastate gardens by trampling plants, so grow your favorites in raised beds to help reduce the risk. Also, weigh down containers so they won’t be knocked over accidentally.”