When children come along, the back garden becomes less of a relaxing haven and more of a play area for ball games, den making and even cycling. However, you don’t have to let your natural paradise be overrun by plastic toys and climbing frames. Here are some clever ideas to transform your garden into a kids’ paradise that grown-ups will enjoy, too.
Keep it natural
There’s often no need to buy specific items for kids to play with. Use your imagination and create simple play areas using natural materials, like these tree stumps, which would make a great obstacle course or seating area. Alternatively, place stepping stones across a lawn and either leave them plain or paint and decorate them. When you’re chopping or pruning in the garden, don’t throw out the waste immediately. Leave it in a pile for your children to enjoy, or challenge them to make something amazing with it.
Plan for play equipment
If you’re redesigning the hard landscape of your garden, it’s worth incorporating your children’s ideas into the design. Here, a stainless-steel slide has been included in the step construction, with a simple sand pit at the bottom. The result is a stylish garden that looks good and keeps the kids happy at the same time.
Lay some turf
You can’t beat an area of lawn for playing on. It provides a soft landing for practising cartwheels and handstands, a pitch for ball games, or just a place to sprawl. In the surrounding flower borders, choose easy-maintenance plants and shrubs that will stand up to balls and trampling, such as Alchemilla mollis, buddleia and Choisya ternata.
Add some quirky paths
Kids love to ride on anything with wheels, so include a hard surface, such as paving or decking, on which they can cycle, scoot or roller-blade. A standard patio is great, but if you want to be more adventurous, consider designing a curved path. A track that wiggles its way around the garden is more fun than a straight path, and could inspire a whole range of games and races.
Create a sensory garden
Encourage your children to enjoy the garden by stimulating all their senses. For sight, grow bright flowers, such as calendula, nasturtiums and sunflowers, or swiss chard for its multi-coloured stems. Rustling grasses and rattling seed heads are lovely to listen to in a rare quiet moment, while a variety of textures, such as the downy leaves of sage, will persuade little ones to use their sense of touch. Include fun smells, such as the curry plant or chocolate cosmos, and stimulate the taste buds by growing easy herbs, such as chives and mint, or a pot of juicy strawberries.
Install a sunken trampoline
Nothing keeps children more entertained than bouncing up and down for hours. There are some great trampolines on the market in a range of sizes, but they do take up a lot of space. For something less overpowering, a sunken trampoline is a fantastic option. You can either buy a do-it-yourself kit, or get a professional to install it for you. As well as looking lovely, an embedded trampoline is less likely to blow over, and children won’t fall off it.
Encourage them to take cover
A completely open space can get too hot on a long summer day, so make sure you create some shade to which children can retreat. Trees are a great option, or alternatively erect a canopy, pergola or simple parasol. Encourage your kids to stay out of the sun by putting a play table, sand pit or swing in this shady spot. On a rainy day, a covered area will also give them the opportunity to get outside in the fresh air.
Set up camp
Children love dens, both as a place to hide and a space for being quiet. A den could be something as simple as a shady corner, or as grand as a treehouse. A bean teepee like this is a simple idea that provides both a camp for the kids and a beautiful frame up which you could grow beans. Buy some willow or bamboo canes from your local garden centre and construct a circle, held in place with garden twine. Plant beans at the base and train them to grow up the wigwam.
Get creative with mosaic
Mosaic tiles are easy to buy from craft suppliers and are a lovely way to brighten up the garden. Choose a grout that’s waterproof and ensure there are no sharp edges. Then let your imagination run wild. You can create large designs on walls and patios, or go for something smaller. The numbered stepping stones along this path would be simple to make, but look fun and will provide the basis for a whole host of games.
Build a climbing wall
If your kids are driving you up the wall, you could get them to climb one instead. It’s easy to purchase ready-made climbing walls, but they’re often included as part of a climbing frame. Haven’t got the space for large piece of equipment? Create your own instead with a pack of climbing wall holds. Make sure you choose a very sturdy wall, then simply screw the holds in at various points. For safety, it’s best to get an expert to do this, as it’s important they’re extremely secure.
Paint a blackboard wall
Got a spare wall you don’t know how to decorate? Transform it into an art station by adding a coat of blackboard paint. If your wall isn’t flat, you’ll need to clad it with some exterior plywood and add a sealant along the edges. Alternatively, hang a framed blackboard, as these homeowners have done. The seat below provides a kneeling spot for little ones to reach their art board above.
Allocate some storage
With kids comes clutter, so build some easy-access storage areas to hide it all and keep it out of the rain. You could add some space under your decking area, or choose garden-seat storage or purpose-built containers. These labelled bins are a simple solution that should encourage little ones to tidy up after themselves.