Garden Design for Children

The great outdoors are a natural playground for kids, providing all the fun and adventure they could wish for. When it comes to creating a play area at home, you can't create the 'great outdoors' in your backyard, unless you're lucky enough to live on a vast property. But you can take your cues from local play parks to create some of the elements kids love so much in your garden at home…without a swing or slide in sight!

Kids don't sit and soak up the sights, sounds and smells of a garden in the way that adults do. They like to run, climb and explore. Winding trails, rope ladders, good climbing trees, stepping-stones and hidey-holes are all elements that allow kids to interact with a garden. If your garden lacks natural interactive equipment, you can easily introduce some. Something as simple as a steering wheel on a log or a little bridge can open up whole new adventures to kids. Suddenly they will be sailing the high seas, fending off pirates and conquering far-off lands. The idea is to try to stimulate kids' imaginations – then, once they're off – they can be occupied for hours. Remember safety; thick mulch for soft landings and plants that don't have toxic berries or leaves.

Inspiration from local parks
Jane Cavanagh, an environmental artist from Sydney, draws inspiration for her work from the natural environment. Jane designed the play area at Henry Lawson Park in Abbotsford in NSW and really knows how to tap into kids' imaginations. Jane's installation at Abbotsford centres around a timber boat with ropes and climbing frames. The inspiration came from a fictional story about the park and adjacent Hen & Chicken bay. The boat is at the lower end of the park but Jane chose to place her other pieces at opposite ends of the park so that children could run between them, make the most of the open space and 'discover' elements. The other sculptures are a mosaic fish seat, bird-seats and some wrought iron sound 'reeds' that can be banged to make noises (there is a sort of phone-line between two of them). Jane has used natural influences to create her playground rather than traditional play apparatus.

Bringing it home

At home your garden is somewhere that has to be enjoyed by you, your friends and family. When Brendan designed a sandpit for Ruby, he decided to give it a dual purpose. When Ruby and her knee-high friends are around – it's a very popular construction site. But when the coast is clear for the adults it's a beautiful timber box seat. With a few gorgeous cushions on top, no-one would ever know what lies beneath!

In our first HOME Winter Special, Brendan designed a garden for Sue, Alistair and their boys in Balgowlah. Sue loves the garden that Brendan created. While her own boys are still a little too young to run riot through the 'jungle', older boys love playing chasing games along the trails and hide 'n' seek in the bushes. The rocks and sandstone give a feeling of natural wilderness where all sorts of adventures can take place. The key has been incorporating the kid friendly elements into the landscaping without detracting from its inherent beauty. A good tip is to use bark chip mulch for the trails to provide a natural soft-fall surface.

At Emma's garden in Bondi, Brendan expanded the idea of a vegie patch to make it a central feature of the overall design. Emma's boys have lots of energy and would love to ride their bikes around the small courtyard but something has to give in as small a space as this. Brendan has chosen to transfer their energy into looking after the veggie patch. It gives a focus for the boys in the garden, looks fantastic and gives Emma the homegrown vegies she wants too. Choosing vegies that your kids like to grow, pick and eat will encourage them in the garden. Carrots and beans are a popular choice.

In conclusion, keep your kids' garden simple so it can change and grow with your children's needs and remember a child's imagination can turn anything – into everything!


  • Keep cricket, ball-games and soccer for the park
  • Use natural elements such as rocks, trails and trees to form a playground, rather than play equipment which will have limited appeal
  • Where appropriate, go for bright colours instead of muted tones
  • Try to use soft-fall surfaces instead of hard concrete or sharp gravel
  • Water, ponds, bogs and streams will provide hours of fun – but make sure young children are supervised
  • If building a sand-pit, make sure the lid can hinge up or come off easily
  • Kids learn by example – if you love spending time in your garden, your kid no doubt will too!

Jane Cavanagh
Environmental Artist
Outlandish Art & Design
Ph: 0413 585 732

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