While most children think of the garden as a place for play, parents want it to be a haven of tranquillity and beauty.
This conflict of interests is particularly significant because while the parents are likely to have a fixed idea of how they want their garden to look like over say the next few years, the children’s needs keep evolving as they grow. Hence, when children are in the equation, compromises are necessary as you plan your garden.
This is significant when space is limited where even if a portion is designated for the children’s use, some over-spill is inevitable and the ‘play area’ may turn out to be more theoretical than practical.
Siting play area
Siting a children’s play area within a garden calls for some thought. First the space must be easy to observe and supervise especially when there are small kids.
It will also need to be somewhere fairly sheltered from strong winds and should be at least partly shaded. If there is no existing shade tree or other shelter in the vicinity, the play area may need to be partly roofed.
Sail shades make a good instant protection against both rain and glaring sunshine and provide interesting form and colour.
Wooden latticework or plants growing over a pergola will also provide good shade.
A soft grass surface is ideal for playing, but because rain and intensive use can easily turn it into mud, an alternative form of flooring may be provided as an option. Loose surface materials such as wood chips or sand are soft, clean and inexpensive.
Very small children will play happily with their toys on a patio or lawn near the house doors or windows, needing no more than a blanket or waterproof sheet to sit on.
Eventually, when the noise and activity of their play becomes a nuisance, they may be given their own larger play area sited at a more discreet (but still visible) distance from the house.
If your space is small, think about how some of the spaces and garden elements can double up as interests to play. For instance, you can lay garden paths to double up as cycling tracks.
Also think about how, in later years, certain play elements can be reconstructed to perform a more ornamental role of some other function other than play.
-The writer is a landscape architect