In summer on a day off there’s nothing I like more than to potter in my garden listening to the reassuring giggles of my young daughters in the background as they play happily - most of the time!
Gardens mean so many things to different people but if you’re a parent of young children like I am then, you’ll know that their arrival can fill your garden with a mountain of plastic toys and trampolines, swings and slides that transform your former paradise into more of a park playground than a landscaped garden. So how do you keep your garden looking aesthetically pleasing and at the same time create the kids a garden paradise of their own?
Size will dictate just what you can include and of course the age of your children. A play area for toddlers is best near the house so you can easily supervise them but as kids get older, they want to be away from the eagle eye of parents in a private area, so screening off part of your garden with trellis or plants is the perfect solution. You can still discreetly watch them, but they will feel it's their parent-free zone. Think about shading as well. My youngest Ivy loves her sandpit which I built in a naturally shady part of the garden where it’s hard to grow plants anyway, and this keeps her occupied while out of the harshest summer sun.
When it comes to playing, you don’t need to spend a fortune to keep kids occupied - a simple rope swing or a tyre hanging from a tree is always a hit, and a homemade slide on a slope or embankment will keep them amused for ages. Anything to do with water like paddling pools, water pistols and hose pipes and sprinklers is a must on hot summer days but do always think of safety.
Making your garden a child’s paradise is easier if you are lucky enough to have a generous plot with mature trees - think tree houses, the ultimate hideaway or a tree-to-tree zip wire as that has to be to be most children’s favourite outdoor adventure. If that seems a bit too much of a challenge then let’s get back down to earth! Help them make a tee-pee out of old branches and a garden tarpaulin, or build a wooden one out of old pallets; they’ll have hours of fun and can hide there when it rains. Create a crawl tunnel for them to wriggle through, make it out of something like sturdy mesh shaped into an arch and secured with canes with peas growing over it, or design a more permanent living one made out of willow with softwood chips on the floor.
One of the simplest structures to create is a willow den. You can often buy willow whips in the springtime (we sell them when available) and these will root when simply pushed into the ground. With just a bundle of 12, you can create a living tee-pee that will be a great hidey-hole, not just for one summer but for many summers to come.
Even if your garden isn’t large there are still lots of other fun ideas that you can create and often for little money. Something as simple as a stick of chalk can turn a patio into an art canvas or a game of hopscotch. Whatever size garden you have in which to create your child’s little bit of paradise it doesn’t have to be all about toys and playing - they love to get their hands dirty just like I did when helping my Dad. As parents ourselves, my sister, Becky and I love to come up with simple and inexpensive projects at Groves and Little Groves so they can learn about wildlife and gardening, projects that can be done as a family such as designing a bug house, constructing a mini garden pond or building a simple bird feeder.