“An excellent way to encourage outdoor and creative play is to give kids their own space,” says Matt Gerakios, urban horticultural consultant at Phyton Australia. “It also gives them an opportunity to take ownership and responsibility of their own play equipment, garden beds and, hopefully, any mess, too!”
Ask littlies to be involved in the design process and they're more likely to be excited by their newfound responsibility. It will help if you give them options, so you can guide them in the right direction. Otherwise, you may end up with a kaleidoscope of colourful toys and equipment.
A cubby house, swing set or raised garden beds are just a few ideas you can build on. “If you're short on space, remember to think vertically as well as horizontally – a raised cubby can instantly add square metres to your space, and a vertical fence planter can make great use of a small sunny spot,” says Matt.
Also consider a sheet of ply painted in chalkboard paint, or pavers laid out in a hopscotch pattern. Simple ideas can often be the best and can be incorporated into your garden without too much disruption. “Keep it fairly close to the house, so you can keep an eye on the littlies, but also give them their space and a sense of privacy,” adds Matt.
Soft surfaces that can deal with foot traffic and the odd tumble are perfect for play areas, says Nick Katsoulis of Hortic. “Couch or kikuyu lawns are great options as they're soft and hard-wearing, but for a stylish alternative, try mondo grass or dichondra,” he suggests.
“For high foot traffic areas or in areas with deep shade, quality synthetic turf is ideal, providing the area is properly prepared.” It's low maintenance, but still soft underfoot – no grazed knees here!
Kids will be kids, and you can bet they won't always wear sunscreen or a hat while playing. If this sounds like yours, Matt says to consider shade plants or a shade sail. “Creating seasonal shade in parts of the garden can be achieved with deciduous trees such as maple, or even deciduous vines over an arbour or pergola,” he says. “Where these aren't an option, consider a shade sail or cloth – they're available in different colours and degrees of sun block out.”
Remember, all bodies of water, including small ponds, wading pools and bubbling water features, can also be risky for children. Depending on the depth of the pool or pond, you may need to install fencing or use a safety grid across the top to prevent children from falling in.
As your kids grow, so too should the garden. Consider trading in the sandpit or wading pool and transforming areas so they can hang with their friends.
“Sandstone block seats coupled with lounging cushions around a fire pit makes for an attractive retreat,” says Nick. You can also transform a shed into a ‘no adult zone'; simply add a few themed furnishings – think lounge chairs, wall hangings and decorative ornaments – for an instant facelift.
Adults deserve a space in the garden too, of course, and the good news is you can have both, without compromising too much on style or practicality. Create informal garden ‘rooms', by framing areas of the backyard with low hedges or medium-sized shrubs.
“This creates distinct zones, giving both kids and adults their space. Plus, it can help buffer low-flying balls, too,” says Nick. Include a winding pathway between the spaces, perhaps with crazy paving or large flagstone pavers, to provide an enjoyable but attractive surface to play ball or ride bikes.
Garden ornaments, such as pinwheels, metal garden animals and decorative solar lights, create visual interest, can fire the imagination, and are incredibly pleasing for the whole family.
Choose plants with fragrance, colour and texture to make the garden interesting for children
Tufts of purple leaves with gorgeous ‘cat tail'-like heads.
Fragrant, lemon-scented leaves with white fluffy flowerheads in summer and autumn.
Forms a thick carpet of fleshy leaves, covered with pink, yellow or white daisy-like blooms in spring and summer.
Remember, not all plants mix well with kids. Some, such as oleander Thevetia peruviana and Nerium oleander, are toxic. Avoid plants with berries that curious kids may want to sample, as some are poisonous (for example white cedar), and steer clear of plants with thorns, spikes or prickles that can poke eyes or irritate skin.
If there's bee allergy in your family, look at options less likely to attract them. It's wise to do your research well before you make your plant selection.
“A vegie garden is a great way to get the kids interested in gardening, and there is plenty of produce to grow year-round,” says Nick. Look for raised vegie beds so they're easy to reach, and consider installing a simple drip irrigation system for the days when kids forget to water.
When it comes to plant choices, look for quick rewards. “Fast-growing fruits and vegies, like strawberries, blueberries and radishes, are sure to keep kids intrigued,” says Matt. Interplant with carrots and snow peas – they look fun and make a great garden snack.
Florals can feature, too. Violas and marigolds are pretty and edible, while sunflowers are just a joy to grow. Play a game to see who can grow the tallest sunflower!
We've got plenty of fun D.I.Y. ideas to help you keep the kids occupied, check them out now!