Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Gardens for All Ages

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Gardens for All Ages

Article excerpt


CAN a pergola coexist with a play den? Will friends step in the sandpit when they have drinks on the terrace? Is there such a thing as a football-friendly flower? Making a garden for the whole family need not mean turning your valuable outdoor room into an adventure playground until the toddlers become teens.

Several garden designers with young families have worked out winning formulas in their own plots and believe that, with a little forward planning, you can have a garden that is as stimulating for children as it is satisfying for adults.

If space is limited, Richard Key suggests you create structures that fulfil more than one function. His own low-level barbecue, when not in use, is covered with a stone slab that forms a low bench. "A ground-level sandpit could have a timber lid that is flush with paving for trikes, or you could use the area for a table and chairs. Raised timber decks can conceal toys, garden furniture or tools underneath." A strong pergola or tree can support a swing, climbing rope or hanging tyre as well as a birdfeeder. To save on valuable floor space, he suggests using every available vertical surface to grow plants: against the house, boundary walls and on pergolas, to provide a sun-sheltering canopy of foliage.

Even if you have a separate play area for kids, the general garden landscape will need to be modified. Gravel isn't great for toddlers, who rather like putting it in their mouths, and grass, though forgiving in a fall, doesn't take to constant trampling. Decking provides a slightly softer, quieter surface than stone or concrete, so is a good choice for the family garden.

Kevin McCloud has laid rubber flooring - the kind used in playgrounds - in the play areas in his garden.

Bark chippings ensure equally safe tumbles from swings, but use "play-grade" bark, which won't splinter. Joe Swift, owner of Islington's The Plant Room, has placed a moveable shallow ramp against his garden steps so that his son Stanley can safely ride his bike from one level to the next.

"Imagine the garden as if you were a child," suggests Joe. "Low retaining walls become something to run along and jump off, so some steps to get up on them are necessary. Paths are for trike riding, so don't choose gravel or bark as surfaces." For football practice, he has sensibly banished a planting space in between paved area and wall.

Growing tall perennials such as delphiniums in a football-friendly garden is like lining up the pins in bowling: sooner or later, they'll get bashed.

Low-growing perennials, such as hardy geraniums and alchemilla, are a safer bet and garden designers agree that toughest of all are evergreen shrubs such as viburnum, pyracantha and cotoneaster.

As well as being safe from children, plants need to be safe for them. …

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