We all want to encourage the next generation of gardeners, and make our outdoor spaces an inviting place for children to explore, experiment, and enjoy. The default options, however, for young children’s outdoor toys are often an array of cumbersome pieces which can quickly dominate a garden. Before you know it, your carefully curated outdoor sanctuary has been taken over by a sea of unsightly plastic sculptures!
Thankfully there are ways round this which ensure your child still has a fun time outside, but not at the cost of your garden design. Here are five ways in which to create a garden that is stimulating and fun for children, but still looks good and cuts down on the use of plastic.
Trampolines are hugely popular and lots of fun, but let’s be honest, they are not the most attractive objects. A more aesthetically pleasing option is to have a sunken trampoline. It means your garden is not dominated by a large ‘cage’, it is considered to be safer as it is flush to the ground, and it can be easily concealed by planting. A sunken trampoline has the added bonus of being less likely to blow away during a storm, which is especially relevant after the extreme weather we endured last winter.
Living Willow Structures
Planting a living willow wigwam or tunnel is a great way to create an outdoor den for children to play in which also looks good. There are specialist companies which can create a structure for you, or if you are feeling creative you can come up with your own design with your children and plant it together. It is best planted in late winter or early spring with whips (literally sticks of freshly cut willow). Recommended varieties include Salix alba var. vitellina, Salix purpurea, and Salix viminalis. It will grow quickly, and depending on how neat or wild you want it to look, it can either have a few light trims a year, or an annual haircut which is another fun activity in which to involve your children.
Tree Stump Furniture
Sadly Scotland lost hundreds of thousands of trees this winter with Storms Arwen and Eunice. This means that there is a lot of wood readily available, so make the most of it by using slices of tree trunks for a table and stools for children. This can then be used as an area to have an outdoor snack, do some crafts, or have a teddy bear’s picnic. It is so much more attractive than plastic furniture, it is better for the environment, and again it will not blow away. As the children grow older, the table could be replaced with a fire pit, with the tree stump seats positioned around it to enjoy a camp fire, an evening of star gazing, or toasting marshmallows.
Flower and Vegetable Beds
Create a dedicated area for your child to grow flowers or vegetables. This could be part of an existing flower bed, a raised bed, a trough, or a planter depending on what size of outdoor space you have. They will love the grown up feeling of having their own area and the freedom to grow what they like. Siblings could have a sunflower growing competition, or each grow their favourite fruit or vegetable. Strawberries, mini carrots, and peas are all good options for first time growers.
Outdoor Toy Box
Rather than investing in bulky outdoor toys which can quickly be outgrown, simply having an outdoor storage box is a much more adaptable solution. It can hold a selection of smaller items and is a great way for children to have access to a variety of toys which can be easily tidied away at the end of the day. Then come evening time, you can enjoy a drink outside without being surrounded by play equipment. The toy box could contain bubbles, footballs, skipping ropes, water pistols, badminton sets, or frisbees depending on the age of the children and the size of your garden, and the selection of toys can change as the children get older.
These are some ideas which will work in a family garden to engage children, provide them with a range of activities, and most importantly, have fun – and all without a giant plastic jungle gym in site!
Katie runs Katie Reynolds Design which offers garden and interior design services across Aberdeenshire and the North East of Scotland. She is qualified in both sectors, having trained at KLC School of Design in London and the National Design Academy. Follow Katie for more inspiration on Instagram and Facebook.