Make Your Garden Child-Friendly With These Essential Elements

Thinking of these factors can help make sure a garden grows happy and healthy kids, as well as happy and healthy plants.

A mother and her son are kneeling next to their vegetable garden and are holding their freshly picked produce, next to them is a basket full of vegetables and a watering can.

 FatCamera / Getty Images

Creating a child-friendly garden is straightforward. But there are certain essential elements that can easily be overlooked. In my work as a permaculture designer, I have helped many families develop gardens to meet the needs of all the members of the household. 

Space for Active Play

First of all, no matter how large or small a garden may be, it is important to make sure that there is space for active play. In a smaller garden, this might be a single mature tree to climb, or a circular path for cycling or running, for example. In a larger garden, it might be an extensive natural obstacle course, a sustainable wood jungle gym, or even a meadow area for sports and games.

Whichever elements you decide to include, there is one important thing to bear in mind: a neat mono-crop grass lawn certainly isn't essential! Many families with young children think that they need to retain a neat lawn for their kids. But kids can have just as much active fun in a more natural environment.

Zones for Messy Play

An overly manicured garden is not child-friendly. Kids make a mess. And that is as it should be. It is very important not to be too precious about your beautiful garden. There should be some areas where kids are free to run a little wild and make a mess. 

Make sure you ring fence some space for your kids to make mud pies, guddle in puddles, cover themselves in fall leaves, and generally get up close and personal with nature. Leave wilder corners not just for wildlife, but for your children too. 

 

Areas to Nurture the Imagination

It is very important for children to be able to give their imagination free rein. And you can give them a helping hand by giving them a garden that sparks their creativity and sends them off into new, imaginative worlds. 

Turn a raised bed into a sleeping giant; create a fairy woodland glade; build a fort, wigwam, treehouse, or castle where they can live our their adventures, with "jungles" of plant life to explore and discover. 

Spaces for Learning

Getting kids growing can be a great way to teach them the skills they need to be sustainable citizens of the future. Sow seeds and grow together, and consider giving kids some of their own space so that they can have some agency over what they grow. This can help them to see how the decisions they make affect the world around them. 

An edible garden does not just produce food and other resources for your garden. It can also be a nature school. There, your child can discover more about what they eat and understand where it comes from and the natural systems on which it depends. Get it right and your kids won't even notice they are learning. They'll simply be having fun. 

Space for Quiet Time

Spending time with your children in the garden, giving them the knowledge and skills they need is important. But it is equally important to make sure that children have some alone time to commune with and learn from nature on their own. 

Dens, whether built or grown, can provide children with wonderful places to enjoy some quiet time, away from direct adult supervision. So find a quiet corner of your garden, and turn it into a retreat where kids can get away from it all. You could build an amazing den, or have them help you build one. Or you could simply create a dense planting scheme and allow them to discover a natural den on their own. As a child, I had a wonderful den underneath a large rhododendron bush in a small woodland area at the back of the garden, for example. 

Wonderful Wildlife to Discover

 

Of course, whichever other elements you decide to include in your garden, it all comes back to the planting. Dense and diverse planting schemes are always wonderful for a child-friendly garden. Kids love discovering all the wildlife such sustainable planting schemes will bring. The more wildlife you can attract to your garden, the more time kids will be able to spend discovering all the amazing creatures that share the space. 

Of course, you can kit out a garden with all sorts of play equipment, etc to keep kids happy. But the basic elements above are crucial and are often all that they really need.

 

Elizabeth Waddington,  June 2021

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