For gardens to compete in the modern world, gardens for kids need to be more fun.
So, decide if the garden is mainly your space or will be an interesting space for the kids?
Gardens are created by adults but used by children.
The problem is we create gardens for adults, and hope the children will like using them.
Our gardens made are lovely and have borders and lawns, patios and pergolas and are perfectly functional outside spaces. But from a childs perspective, what is the garden really like?
Childhood has changed, garden sizes have shrunk and the virtual world of the screen has captured all of us. Gardens no longer are interesting enough to want to be in if you are a child. The Xbox and PlayStation have much more exciting worlds to ‘play’ in. These worlds have dragons and dinosaurs, excitement, danger and can be explored endlessly. If I were a child now, I wouldn’t want to sit in the garden and play swingball. I’d be immersed in the excitement of the screen too.
Now there is nothing inherently bad with computer games, the problem lies in the games ability to entertain for hours on end. The garden just cannot compete, it is a garden for adults not a garden for kids.
Consequently, when we say to go outside in the garden and play, the child sees it as almost a punishment, there’s nothing to ‘do’ outside! The garden doesn’t excite them.
We need to make gardens more interesting.
The Duchess of Sussex was absolutely on the ball with this, with her garden at the Chelsea Flower Show.
She had clearly understood the positive benefit being outside had, not just because children are outside being active. But because their minds are not being fed a constant stream of ‘brain goop’ by the screen. Children need to use their imaginations.
Children have no need to be bored anymore because the screen can instantly fill their minds with excitement. But it’s addictive and in the long term will not help them.
Now my childhood had lots of boring days, however, boredom is actually necessary for children’s brains to learn to be creative. It is the passive ‘feed me constant entertainment’ which is the real problem affecting our children’s development.
We need to get kids engaged more with nature and the world outside, the problem is how. If you have a small urban back garden, how do you create a garden your kids will love.
First, think like a child
We were all children once, we just have to remember how we played. It is how children still play now albeit electronically. They still run and jump, hide, play ‘bang-bang you’re dead’ games, make forts and dens. Kids still have imaginary friends, it’s just this is increasingly a virtual experience.
The garden then needs to have places where the child can do all these activities for real. Bring a little excitement back in the garden. But in order to compete with electronic excitement, we need a bit of risk and danger.
When I was a child my father made a death slide. He strung a rope from the upstairs window, cut a hole in a washing up bottle to act as the sliding grip. We stood on a step ladder, grasped the bottle and slid to our deaths down the slide.
Our bums got scuffed on the grass as we landed, fell off once or twice, got a couple of bruises; but aged 6 it was fantastic fun. We were allowed to climb the tree at the bottom of the garden. But were told to always have 3 points of contact before moving an arm or leg. This ensured we learned to take risks in a managed way.
The point is it didn’t need to be an expensive playground. In fact makeshift and made by Mum and Dad IS what made it fantastic!
My brother and I did fall out of the tree, but only because we tried hanging off it like Tarzan. We learned Tarzan could only swing through the trees in films and not in real life. I survived, as did my brother!
Accept there will be mishaps
Now I am not advocating the absolution of parental responsibility, our role is to introduce excitement without stupid risks. It is also to accept that our kids will get dirty, eat worms (me) or possibly bird poo, (my younger brother who is now a Professor of Astrophysics), fall in stinging nettles and get a bit bruised. Maybe it’s best to not put a trampoline on a concrete patio. But why not put the slide under the tree, so kids have to climb the tree to go down the slide?
Ask your children what they would like!
The easiest way to get engagement and interest is to ask. In my garden, the path was created with a slight slope. It was more fun on skates, skateboard and when learning to ride a bike. Another really simple idea is to have a grass mound. If a space is left for a plank, then all of a sudden the mound becomes a launch pad for learning BMX bike tricks.
Climb, Jump, Dangle and Hide
Imagine, when your buddies came round to play, you could all do those things because you were allowed to in the garden. Imaginative play would spawn itself, dens would appear. Maybe even a campfire; which even in a small garden is possible achievable and doable.
The restrictions on the kids play is created by us. “Don’t kick a ball into the flower beds. Don’t climb on the shed roof, you could fall off. Be careful. Don’t do bike tricks on the grass it messes it up!”
Toys are brightly coloured, plastic and put away after use; the garden needs to be tidied like the house is.
No, it doesn’t.
The patio is the adult space, the rest is for the kids
Gardens aren’t forever, they need to change and evolve over time
If you want to get the kids outside and off their screens you need to think more radically about your garden and the role it needs to play. It needs to be a an interesting enticing space; a garden for kids.
Garden Design Tips – Football Goals
It is possible to have children, a football goal and flowers with a little forward planning and design cunning!
The design uses plants from the “Nearly Indestructible Garden for Kids” design.
There are two problems if you have kids who love to play football. Firstly the damage from flying footballs and energetic mini-Messi’s and secondly the wear to the grass in front of a goal.
Gardening with kids is all about creating zones in the garden. Zones they can play in without destroying everything, zones for the flowers and zones for you and your coffee cup to enjoy without being hit!
So there are a few tips that will help you design all these factors in.
- Buy the tallest & largest goal you can fit in the garden.
- Plant really sturdy shrubs next to the goals.
- Plant all the prettier delicate flowers near the house or patio.
- Consider artificial turf around the goal.
- Use lots bulbs that flower early or late in the year.
- Your seating area should be as far away from the goal as possible!
It may sound counter intuitive to put a large goal in a small garden, however, goals are extremely good at catching footballs. The larger the goal, the more footballs they catch. Consequently this means fewer football hit the fence, fly into next door’s garden or decapitate your tulips!
Similarly, large sturdy evergreen shrubs will also help keep the ball ‘in play’. These plants can be underplanted with scrambling climbers like clematis. The shrubs help protect the plants and you just see the flowers.
Use plenty of bulbs, if the flowers get damaged, they will still regrow next year. Using early and late flowering bulbs means you see some flowers when it’s less likely the little treasures will be outside playing.
As the borders approach the patio or back door, you can indulge in a few more pretty but rather more delicate plants.
Even if the garden is small, zones can be created to allow the garden to function for everyone – and hopefully you can sit and enjoy a coffee in the sunshine without having to duck!