A Garden To Play In

I strongly believe that gardens should be designed and organised for children of all ages to enjoy. I have seen many wonderful gardens that have no provision for children to play in – the plants were immaculate and the lawn smooth and green with not a weed in sight, but not my idea of a family garden. I’ve also seen the opposite, where the parents have allocated the garden totally to the children and left no space for themselves.

Children love to play in the garden so why not create spaces for them to play in. For younger children this area should be visible from the house so that someone can keep an eye on them. Children love a den to play in and a playhouse would be ideal. One advantage of these is that they can be used in all weathers.

Alternatively, create a space under a shrub or tree where they can hide. I’ve created some wonderful play areas using willow. This is simple to plant and maintain but takes up quite a lot of space. However, there is no reason why climbers, like clematis or honeysuckle, should not be grown over a frame to form a den (evergreen versions would make an all-year-round den). Avoid the thorny ones like roses or Pyracantha and poisonous ones like Wisteria.

If you are considering a water feature in your garden then remember that toddlers and water of any depth should be kept separate, unless they are under constant supervision. If you want a pond then be prepared to cover it so children cannot fall into it. A water feature will not present a drowning hazard as long as there is no exposed area of water. A water feature that bubbles up through a bed of pebbles would be ideal. However, there is one further word of warning: do not allow anyone to drink the water- the water is in a container that is not exposed to sunlight and it can become contaminated.

We have talked about young children but what about the older ones? For ball games I would suggest garden tennis, where the ball is on a rope. Another idea that can keep people of most ages occupied for many hours and does little damage to the plants is some form of remote control car circuit. You could create paths that also doubled as a circuit for 4-wheel drive models. The surface needs to be of differing textures like pebbles, bark, paving slabs etc. Alternatively, the surface could be smooth for racing cars. Decide on the type of car before planning the track.

There seems to be a need for compromise in the way we each use the garden. It is a shame to keep shouting at the children to keep off the garden – this will not encourage them to become gardeners later. However, many of us less young people want a garden with shrubs and flowers. I suggest we encourage the children to have their own area of garden to be proud of, as well as an area to play in.

Ponds.

Safety: Make sure that any electrical supply is safe.

1) Do not locate the pond under trees, as the leaves will cause problems when they fall into the water.

2) Locate the pond in partial shade as sunlight promotes the growth of algae.

3) Decide if you want a flexible liner to make a hole in the ground watertight or a pre-formed pond.

4) If using a liner, use a soft underlay under the liner to prevent sharp objects in the soil puncturing the liner.

5) Run the electricity and a water supply to the pond. Plan to add a filter if the pond does not clear within a few months.

6) If designing a pond for a flexible liner, make sure it is deep enough for the fish to over-winter (this will depend on the size and number of fish you have ? over winter is where the fish go to the bottom of the pond).

7) Make sure there are shelves about 250mm (10 inches) below the surface and large enough for the plant baskets to rest on.

Pond care

Safety: Fence or cover the pond so that children cannot fall into it.

1) Water needs oxygen to support life. This can be achieved by using a fountain, plant life or a mixture of both.

2) Decide what you want the pond for. If you want wildlife etc. do not put fish in the pond, as they will eat the frogspawn.

3) It is not essential to have the fountain running all the time, therefore a timer switch can be used to allow the fountain to run for a few hours a day.

4) It takes time (usually a few months) for the pond to find its natural balance. The pond will gradually become clear if left alone.

5) If the pond does not become clear, add a filter so that the water is pumped via the filter to the fountain and back into the pond.

6) Add oat straw or an ultraviolet clarifier to help remove green algae.

7) It is not a necessity for the pond to have lights, however, they look attractive and bring life to the pond – a few low voltage ones.

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