The Garden, your space or an interesting space?

For gardens to compete in the modern world, we need to make them more fun. You need to decide if the garden is your space or an interesting space?

Gardens are created by adults but used by children, the problem is we create gardens we like but not necessarily gardens children will like using.

The gardens made are lovely and have borders and lawns, patios and pergola’s and are perfectly functional outside spaces.

However childhood has changed, garden sizes are shrinking and the 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 or evil with computer games themselves, the problem lies in the games ability to entertain for hours on end. The garden is just plain boring! Yet parents do need to manage how children spend their time, so the problem is 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!

We need to make gardens more interesting.

The Duchess of Sussex is absolutely on the ball with this, with her recent creation of a garden at this years Chelsea Flower Show.

She had clearly understood the positive links being outside has, not just because they are outside being active but because their minds are not being fed a constant stream of ‘brain goop’ by the screen.

A garden created for children not for adults
Children have no need to be bored anymore because the screen can instantly fill their minds with excitement; but it’s addictive and creating a dependency that in the long term will not help them.

Now my childhood had lots of boring days, but boredom is actually necessary for children’s brains to learn to be creative. It is this passive ‘feed me constant entertainment’ which is the real problem affecting our children’s development.

Society knows 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 like to play in when you don’t have the resources and budgets of a Chelsea Show Garden?

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, dens and 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 (or some at least) for real. We need to bring a little excitement back in the garden, but to do that and 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 and we stood on a step ladder, grasped the bottle and slid to our deaths down the slide in the garden. We scuffed our bums 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 not having been warned to not fall, but with the advice to always have 3 points of contact before moving an arm or leg. 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 that was because we tried hanging off it like Tarzan, except 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. So you wouldn’t put a trampoline on a concrete patio, but why not put the slide under the tree so they 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, which would have been easier to flatten out, but because we didn’t it was more fun on skates, skateboard and when learning to ride a bike. A really simple idea is to have a mound, it can be grass covered or be planted, but 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 being a child and in your garden when your buddies came round to play, and 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 only 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” or “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

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What if you said to your offspring, how would you change the garden, so there are two spaces, one for you and the rest for them – can you imagine the ideas they would come up with; some more workable and affordable than others, but why not make those changes you can. If you and your children were creating a play space for them outside the back door, the likelihood is the garden would compete very effectively with the Xbox.

Gardens aren’t forever, they need to change and evolve as our lives change and evolve, 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.

If you want the outdoors to beat the Xbox – make it more exciting!