Not many people in this country have the liberty of a huge, sprawling estate with multiple garden rooms, each in a different style with a different purpose. As such we have to compromise on what’s most important to us, whether it be an outdoor dining area, kids’ play area or a lawn for the dog, for example. We all have different priorities and combining some of those priorities may not be as hard as you think
The number one question I am asked as a designer is how to combine a great-looking adult garden with a kid-friendly garden without it looking like a trip to the local park. It’s in situations such as this that I try to introduce the concept of a ‘natural playground’.
I was lucky to grow up in the country, where play consisted of climbing trees, rolling down hills and building forts and dams — all of which is known as ‘natural play’. The concept of a natural playground is one that creates an area for children to play naturally and to let their imaginations run free. As a general rule these types of gardens have a naturalistic, relaxed feel to them.
From an aesthetic point of view, one of the benefits of natural playgrounds is that a great-looking natural environment is a lot easier to introduce adult elements into. For example, if you were to have a mound of soil with big boulders dug into it surrounded by plants for children to scramble through and climb upon, you could then dig in a sunken entertaining area to give you a secluded adult outdoor dining area. If you were to surround the area with large feature stones and bold plantings, it would help to tie it to the kids’ area and would add extra things to climb on.
By contrast, if you had a very adult garden — say the typical covered entertaining area off the back of the house followed by a lawn surrounded by borders of planting — and then you add kids’ elements such as a trampoline, swings and pre-made play equipment, the look will be disjointed and mismatched.
If the natural look just isn’t your thing, then you need to be clever with the way you introduce children’s play equipment. The enemy of any parent trying to achieve even a modicum of style is clutter, so being able to hide play equipment should be at the top of the list.
Of course, the garden shed is a great way to hide play equipment but if it’s in full view, maybe you need to dress it up and make a feature of it. Replicating the architecture of the house will make it feel less like an afterthought and more of a concerted decision to make something visually pleasing.
Blackboard paint is a great way to add a space where children can draw and write whatever they like, with the end result being able to be removed with ease. A good spot for these is on the side of the shed facing away from the main view from the house.
Children love sand pits and these are a popular choice in outdoor areas. If you want to have a sand pit I’ve found a good spot to hide one is under the deck. By bulking up the size of joists and using hardwood timbers instead of treated pine you can have larger spans between them, giving you valuable space to construct a sand pit on wheels that can easily be pulled in and out when desired.
Having a practical space for both children and adults shouldn’t stop at the layout of the garden and should be considered right through to the finishing fabrics on the furniture and cushions. In my experience it’s best to go for the most weather-resistant and easy-to-clean fabrics you can afford. These are not only the most practical and hard-wearing (which is a must when children are around), but they can usually be left out in the elements, which is a bonus for time-poor parents.