Already planning for the summer holidays? If you have children or young ones at home, then you may have found yourself dreading the overwhelming task of endlessly planning days out and other ways to keep them occupied.
The time, effort and, not to mention, money that it takes to prize your little darlings away from their screens can be daunting and draining, but with a little forward planning and creative thinking, you can give them a reason to get out in the garden every day.
Now is the time to shape the garden for holiday high-jinks this summer, just think of the hours and pounds you’ll save during future holidays by investing in a playscape that will keep your young people actively engaged for days on end…and safely within the bounds of your own garden too.
For the smallest members of the family, the key is in providing a diverse landscape full of intriguing features which invite interaction and provide plentiful food for eager imaginations, without cluttering up space or dominating the garden at the expense of adult enjoyment.
Grassed mounds with crawling tunnels encourage tots to get into the landscape, and if placed with care, can give porthole views of particular plants for artful adults to enjoy. Creating level changes with mounds, steps, decking and bridges also lends the garden 3-dimensional complexity, challenging young minds and bodies to explore and adapt to the changes in topography.
Raised sandpits keep both sand and toddlers safe from spilling out and constructed from weathered sleepers can be turned into smart raised beds, once children have outgrown them. Sand also provides textural variance, stimulating senses and building robust motor skills. Think stone, cobbles, bark and logs; add constructions in bricks, hollow blocks and timber, softened by swishing grasses, all of which give developing brains a sensory adventure, aiding the advancement of balance, grip, strength and resilience. Let little ones go barefoot in safe areas, as direct contact with different surfaces allows them to collect information in ways that shoed feet can’t match.
Now, you might be tempted to stuff your garden full of exhilarating features, but spare a thought to the simple pleasures too. Childhood researchers have noted that children spend less time and exhibit less exploratory behaviours in outdoor spaces which are cluttered or busy with fixtures and features, so leave obstacle-free, open areas of lawn for small people and their big imaginations to play and run free, leaving grown-ups to luxuriate at their leisure.
Young Ones Paradise:
As tots turn into tweens, gardens can grow with them. Landscapes offering opportunities for exercise out-of-doors, as well as places of privacy for quiet contemplation, work well for youngsters no longer needing constant supervision.
Get their adrenalin pumping with a mini woodland bike track. They’ll be out there for hours challenging friends to time-trials, plus they’ll be screened off from view, leaving you with some peace and quiet, unless you’re a bit of lycra-warrior too, then you’ll get just as much fun off-roading round your woodlands.
If you can’t quite devote an entire woodland to keeping your children entertained, then how about an aerial deck? Where you have a large leftover stump, top it with a circular deck to create a reading platform (this would also make a rather lovely place for you to soak up the sun whilst sipping on a cocktail, don’t you think?).
Leaving the woods behind, you could incorporate a bouldering base. This doesn’t have to be the type you find in climbing centres, constructed of geometric walls and brightly-coloured holds, we recently supplied natural boulders to a garden that would make great surfaces for bouldering and companies like US-based TradLabs make real, uncut, natural rock holds that can be bolted into place for a more inconspicuous garden gym. Dress the surrounding areas with plenty of sand, bark chips or soft grass to make for safe landings and your kids have their own outdoor climbing centre without spoiling the scenery.
Perhaps your youngsters would like some solitude? A willow teepee makes for a naturalistic hideaway, where dappled light shades the occupant from the glare of the summer sun and cool breezes rustle through its leaves quite restfully. For more year-round usability, little beats the time-honoured treehouse. Whether plush and palatial or enchantingly rustic, treehouses provide a place for younger members of the family to take some time-out or to gather with friends to plan exhilarating adventures. You only need one or two mature trees for simple designs, though its possible to construct veritable treetop villages, if you have a decent sized copse.
Got a water-baby? Surely, the ultimate in landscaping for sport and play must be a swimming pool or swimming pond? Fantastic whole-body exercise, great fun with pool parties or simply splashing about and cooling off in holiday heatwaves, you could even build a covered pool or a pool within a conservatory for year-round use. Installing a pool or swimming pond might just be the pinnacle of planning for a garden that all the family will love.
Long, hazy summer days spent romping around Arcadia. This is the stuff of childhood memories they’ll be reminiscing on well into adulthood and beyond, as well as inspiring garden goals for their own green utopia one day.