When starting a garden, new plants need consist entirely of trees and shrubs of an informal nature: silver birch rather than magnolia, untrained pyracantha, cotoneaster, mountain ash and other semi-wild trees with perhaps blossoming kinds for spring. These should be underplanted with dwarf shrubs such as azaleas and with little glades of ground cover plants, bulb flowers and tiny cyclamen. The path should meander, never cut through the rather dense woodland. It could be made of stepping stones, unevenly shaped slabs or circular concrete blocks.
Sometimes when you are not starting a garden, but your already established garden requires changes to be made for reasons of pure utility. For example, a family with young children may move into a house with an entirely unsuitable garden, or an elderly couple may require something more labour-saving. In planning these “purposeful” gardens, you should first determine the essentials, then once the features are chosen they may be fitted into the overall scheme.
The following gardening ideas are great when you are starting a garden and can incorporate gardening ideas and fun into the garden for children:
For young children there should be play features such as a sandpit, paddling pool, climbing rack, swing or Wendy house and, where possible, these should be grouped in a suitable area so that lawns are not battered by the thunder of tiny feet or herbaceous borders smashed and broken by flying balls. Children in the family must certainly be catered for. They should feel that the garden belongs to them and is not merely a show place into which they are not allowed to trespass. On the other hand, they must learn to respect the plants you buy and tend.
Places most liked by children are the hidden areas – or supposedly hidden – where they can play “hide” games: the land that runs beside the hedge, the glen behind the border made shady and hidden from grown-up eyes, the areas under and behind trees, even the stout limbs of large trees. Play areas of mystery can be made so simply, merely by making a footway that enables you to walk (or run) round the whole perimeter of the garden. If the path winds, is hidden, turns occasionally into stepping stones or leads through a gate or over a tiny but safe bridge, so much the better.
A little piece of rising land can seem very high indeed to a small child. A flight of steps to the top where he can look out is ideal, and provides a definite right of way so that the rest of the hill does not become trodden down. I did this on my own peat hill for my son when he was small. Now I find the steps extremely useful for weeding and otherwise tending my plants.
A large tree can have a lookout platform built a few feet from the ground – it does not have to be high. A safe flight of steps needs to lead up to it. This should have at least one firm hand rail. The platform could serve a double purpose. Hooks fastened to the edges could be used to assemble a “tent” from an old sheet, the platform becoming the roof. This is a great idea in a garden for children.
Wendy houses can be merged attractively into the garden and can be made even more realistic if they have their own little hedge or screen. Avoid thorny shrubs like roses, though you can plant the lovely thornless rose Zephirine Drouhin, perfect for such a hedge and with beautiful blooms. Avoid berried shrubs in case the children are tempted to use them for “cooking” and never plant a laburnum tree in the children’s area, for the little pea-like pods of seeds are very poisonous indeed.
A play place for very small children or toddlers needs to be in sight of the house. If a sand pit is to be made it should be protected in some way from the prevailing wind to prevent the sand being blown about too much. Not often seen in gardens, but in use at the end of many country drives which lead onto a busy road, is a large mirror. By using this you could tuck the play area out of the way of the main garden yet clearly visible in the mirror from the kitchen window.
Wigwams and tents are not so pretty in small gardens and tend to become blown down on windy days, but you can plan an Indian teepee by using climbing plants and some strong posts. A permanent climbing plant like clematis or polygonum will cover the posts all the year round, but temporary effects can be obtained by using runner beans or gourds for the summer months only.
Give the children a scribbling wall on the patio where they will play quite absorbed for hours. No need to paint this black – a matt green will do just as well. When they have passed the scribbling stage, targets for archery can be painted or hung on it.