THE MODERN MINT BLOG
Here are more family garden ideas for those with children who want to know how they can improve their garden. This is a follow-up to a post we wrote a few days ago (and which opened up a lot of discussion) on Child Friendly Gardens.
The most important design idea is to have a place where you can relax and they can play. This could be a good-sized terrace to sit on with a comfy chair, while they have a space specifically for them within eyesight and easy reach.
Think about what garden furniture you get too – not too heavy, yet sturdy enough to use, and most of all please make sure it doesn’t need lots of looking after – you don’t want to spend time cleaning it or having to put it away every night, especially if you are trying to herd children indoors or out of the rain at the same time (this chair might do the trick…)
A swimming pool is a luxury – a good one, for sure – but we have noticed, for those of you who don’t have the money or the space for one, that a hosepipe or a sprinkler is every bit as exciting for children. Running, skipping and leaping through a jet of water on a hot day is guaranteed fun!
We wrote in the original post about trees and how useful they are, and the addition of something like a ladder makes them even more interesting. Safety concerns aside (it is not a tall ladder, nor a weak tree) what these objects do is ‘invite’ children to play and to discover. Logs that have been cut into seats, yew hedges cut into castle walls or with gaps in to make windows, huts, dens and teepees all appeal to children (and perhaps the child in us?)
Our curiosity makes us look around corners or poke our heads into shady spaces. It is the ‘secret garden’ effect, and your children will be drawn there too.
We are currently designing a garden in Upminster, Essex. On our initial visit we found a number of cairns around the garden…
We loved them and spoke to the client, whose 3 girls built them, about actively encouraging them in this activity. They are building a relationship with the garden, which will lead onto other things like planting seeds and studying wildlife. There was no expense here on toys or games – just found, natural objects and the space (under a gorgeous weeping willow) and the time to play.
As well as having a tree in the garden, we also recommend fruit. They are easy maintenance plants, requiring no more than one prune a year, and generally just get on with the job of producing sweet, tasty food. Many adults will have the memory of eating raspberries, strawberries, apples and plums from a grandparents garden, but our generation often lack this. Growing up we got our fruit from the supermarket, but there really is nothing better than picking a raspberry off a cane and eating it then and there.
We try and plant orchards in all of the larger gardens we design, but if tight on space just one apple tree will do the job. Add a few fruit bushes in a corner and you are creating a little piece of magic for children, a memory of growing and picking your own that will live with them all their lives.
Other plants you might want to try are the easy annuals – sweetpeas and sunflowers, which have big seeds making it easier for small hands to work with, while providing bright, recognisable flowers within a few months. Pumpkins, eschscholzia and nasturtiums are wonderful too.
If you are worried about plants being broken or trodden on by a child or a stray football, try ornamental grasses. They are robust, need pruning just once a year (like the fruit) and will just get on doing what they do without your help. They are also recommended if you have an energetic dog that doesn’t respect the difference between lawn and flowerbed…
The final word goes out to lawns – artificial or real? Both have an element of maintenance about them, the artificial lawn less so than a grass lawn but it is not totally work free.
Artificial lawn is better for parents – you don’t need to find time to cut it every week, nor have large or expensive (and potentially dangerous) equipment sat around waiting to be used. This saves on space too – the shed can now store the bikes and trikes that are accumulated as children grow!
But for children we think a lawn is best – real grass beneath their feet, that smell in the morning or when it has just been cut – the senses are thrilled by a lawn. Even better if it is full of daisies too… hours can be spent making chains with them, to go around wrists and necks like jewellery.
The perfect green lawn may be something to strive for, or be envious of, but please remember that is a grown-ups ideal not something a child wants. Save the ‘bowling green’ look for when they have grown-up, as to achieve it you will need to weedkill and feed… and do you really want your children sat playing amongst the chemicals you yourself have sprayed?
We hope these family garden ideas are useful. Please do get in touch if you come up with anymore – we can be found on Twitter – and best of luck with the garden this summer, we hope you enjoy being outside in the sunshine as much as we do!
(For an easy gardening experience with children we recommend Seedballs – see how many you can collect and scatter. And these books below are worth trying for even more ideas…)
Brought By Bike is an excellent website I found last month, where businesses offer their services by (of course) bicycle. Modern Mint and my topiary work is now live on the site offering my topiary services, via bike, to the following two postcodes – CM1 CM2 Now I can imagine I will need to borrow a ladder should anyone have a larger shrub, but most town gardens in the Chelmsford area have a need not just for privacy but to let light into the house… so a balance must be struck when shaping hedges and shrubs to cover both needs. …
Transforming Topiary – a video made for the European Boxwood And Topiary Society by Charlotte Molesworth and I, in her garden. We take a dog topiary and work out how to update it, turning it into a bird. Worth a watch I think, and hopefully useful to you! You can see more of my clipping on the topiary page. Or read my Spring 2021 Topiary Provocation here.
Phillyrea is one of my favourite plants for topiary. I have been using it for quite a few years as a specimen shrub, mostly due to the fact it clips well and has a tough habit – all good characteristics for a topiary plant. It also has a reputation for being an excellent nectar source for bees… Read more about Phillyrea here. Mentioning this to Malcolm Thicke, a market garden historian and writer, he sent me a some photos of topiary and phillyrea mentioned by John Worlidge in Systema Horticulturae from 1682…. incredible! He also mentioned to me that in …