The garden should be a cheerful place for children to play and explore, and creating such a place need not be an expensive exercise for the adults.
All you need to make a safe and stimulating kid-friendly garden is some imagination and an awareness that children (like most adults) revel in the simple pleasure of life. A tree to climb or a rock to explore are far more interesting than the most contrived and expensive amusements.
Things to consider
- Kids love challenges in their garden – structures and trees to climb, nooks and crannies for exploring and creating a sense of mystery, and things to fuel their imagination – sand, water and mud usually do the trick!
- If you’re planning to equip a tree with ropes, tyres, ladders or tree houses make sure the individual branches are strong enough to take the weight
- Choose a soft grass such as common couch for a lawn, not a harsh, scratchy cover like buffalo. Don’t try and grow lawn in areas of high wear, such as under a swing
- Don’t expect your kids to maintain a vegie patch, as they tend to lose interest. But if you grow vegies yourself, they can have great fun with them – grabbing bunches of parsley, pulling baby carrots and potatoes out of the ground, splitting peas open
- Kids generally aren’t interested in floral arrangements or watering. Choose plants that are colourful and hardy, such as banksia. Daisies are great for daisy chains, and paperbark makes great wallpaper for the cubbyhouse or for writing secret letters
- A fun gardening pastime is to help your child sow their name with some flowering seeds
- When choosing plants, check with the nursery staff whether they're suitable for a play area. The Poisons Information Centre (phone 13 11 26, a 24-hour service from anywhere in Australia) can supply a detailed list of common poisonous plants found in gardens around Australia
- Stepping stones are great fun. Lay them flush to the ground to avoid tripping and fill the area between and around them with 15mm of pine bark
- It may be a bridge over nothing but for little kids suspension bridges mean fun and adventurous fantasy. For safety, suspend it just above the ground - it won't matter to the kids, they'll supply the steep ravine and crocodile-infested waters. They cost around $300
- Consider a plastic slide instead of a metal one, and cover the play area with mulch instead of concrete – much kinder to little bones. Alternatively, if you have the space, set your slippery dip into a hill of soil and retain the slope with old car tyres. The tyres cushion the blow for any falls, protect the plant roots and act as steps to the top. Best of all, you can get as many old tyres as you want free from tyre retailers.\
- A great source of nation-wide products, contacts, and ideas can be found at www.outdoordesign.com.au
- The current safety regulations for children's playground equipment is available from Standards Australia (Standards Association of Australia). There are offices in all capital cities.