How to create a child friendly garden that will grow as your family does

Designing a successful family garden is all about planning for change. Check out these 9 future-proof ideas that you and your children will love


How to create a child friendly garden that will grow as your family does

Gardens were once adult-oriented places where Mum and Dad would tend garden beds, mow the lawn and dig the vege patch. Kids could maybe play on a swing but there wasn’t much else to entice them outdoors. Nowadays, gardens are zooming up the essentials list for many families.

Outdoor space is at a premium and there’s increasing awareness of its importance to the health of our children. So how do you make your garden family friendly without filling it up with play equipment? By creating a plan that is flexible enough to accommodate the different generations as they grow.

1. Make a wishlist 

As a family, sort out what your priorities for using your outdoor space are. For most of us, an outdoor living area – somewhere to eat, drink and relax outdoors – is probably number one. However, for other families, a swimming pool or a big lawn to play cricket on might be top of the list.

Creating a scaled site plan of your property will help you work out how much space is actually available for your family’s top activities so your wishlist can be refined accordingly.


2. Create Zones

Rather than creating one large outdoor living space, consider making your deck or terrace a two-level structure, with one adult area and one children’s area. Decorate the kids’ zone with beanbags and low coffee tables with plenty of storage for toys and games. An outdoor fireplace that opens to both sides of the outdoor living area could also serve as a partial screen between the two zones.

3. Play group

When children are little they like to be near the adults, so sandpits and play equipment need to be situated within sight of the outdoor living area and kitchen windows. However, as the kids get a little older, it’s possible to group trampolines, swing sets and so forth a little further away, possibly with some form of screening.

Teenagers prefer a separate space altogether, perhaps a large shed or garage at the back of the garden they can use as a hangout. Add a firepit and hammock and your teenagers will be in heaven.

4. Get them involved 

A big problem parents are facing today is how to get the children away from their devices and out into the garden. One answer is to encourage as much participation in the activities of the garden as possible.

As well as the obvious outdoor attractions such as sandpits, a bike track and play equipment, you can also give them their own garden area for growing flowers and veges, or some paint to decorate their playhouse and flower pots. Allow them to collect driftwood and other found items for their garden area, too.


5. Future proof

Always consider the future when planning features with a child-friendly focus, as kids’ needs and tastes change very quickly. Hire or buy a portable outbuilding for a teenage hangout that can be towed away when they grow out of it, or convert it into a studio/home office.

A playhouse can also be later transformed into a homework hut, garden shed or studio. Removable structures, such as teepees, in which younger children can play and camp out on the lawn in summer, are another good option. That large hole you dug beside the deck for a sandpit can become a pond in future years, while blackboards and climbing walls can be attached to fences or retaining walls and dismantled later, too.

6. Safe options

Fencing and gates need to be secure for young children to play safely outside. Make sure play equipment and trampolines are child-safe too. Some people lower their tramps into a hole in the ground so the kids can bounce at ground level or you can buy models that are fully enclosed with safety nets.

Consider laying bark, artificial turf or playground matting below climbing frames and other play equipment. Grass will quickly wear out and bare earth is very hard on little bodies.


7. Hard surfaces

On the other hand, hard surfaces are a must-have for bikes, trikes, trolleys and skateboards. Consider making a path around the edge of the lawn or looping through the garden from front to back so children and adults can use them at any time of the year.

8. Planting plan 

Most parents would want to avoid planting spiky or poisonous plants but it’s not always obvious which species to steer clear of, as many commonly grown plants, such as daffodils and rhubarb, are toxic. A good rule of thumb is to teach children not to put any leaves, flowers or berries in their mouths.

9. On the grass  

Kids love a nice soft lawn but not all grass species are created equal. You’ll need a hard-wearing lawn mix if children and pets are running around, playing ball games and so on. In bigger gardens, a separate area for games can be laid with bark or artificial turf.

Words by: Carol Bucknell. Photography by: Brigid Arnott and Jody D’arcy/

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