As summertime approaches, many parents start thinking about kid friendly landscape projects that can help transform their yard into a wonderful place for their children to play. Here are some resources and thoughts to keep in mind:
A Kid Friendly Landscape Is Beautiful
One of the main complaints of parents who feel out-of-control with their yards is that their kids' toys and play areas are haphazard. Too many times the adults simply buy a play structure or plastic sandbox and just put it anywhere in the back yard - or else the bikes and other toys are scattered about due to a lack of storage space.
The fact is, a backyard for kids can be given as much landscaping attention as any garden.
- Shade-Create shaded areas using plants - not just trees, but vine-based trellises or pole bean teepees, for example.
- Storage-Use benches and play structures as integrated storage areas, as well - a closet under the slide for toys, for example, or a bike rack installed into the fence. Making these areas decorative can turn cleanup into a game rather than a chore.
- Sandbox-Building a sandbox can be a long-term investment. After the kids have outgrown it, the area becomes a water garden or a raised flowerbed.
- Pathways-Pay attention to the pathways in the yard - if there is a long sloping hill, for example, you may want to stagger play equipment, plants, pools, etc to keep children from running headlong down it and injuring themselves. Much in the same way that malls are designed to keep people inside and interested, a kid friendly landscape becomes its own little world full of games and possibilities.
As much as you may want to buy those beautiful roses for your yard, keep in mind that delicate or "sharp" (i.e. thorny or prickly stemmed) plants are definitely not kid-friendly - and vice versa. Beebalm is an example of a lovely and child-friendly plant, as is lamb's ear, a soft blossom that will appeal to a child's natural explorative nature. Phlox and some geraniums will also give your garden a pleasing scent, and if you teach your children some of the fun names for plants (like the "butterfly bush") it will help them feel more connected to your yard.
Planting fruits and vegetable gardens in raised beds can also help foster a connection to the land with your children. Be careful, though, to plant with an eye towards possible allergies or other medical reactions. The University of Vermont has a free table online listing some of these potentially harmful plants.
Resources for Landscaping for Kids
Many home improvement television shows such as the DIY (Do-It-Yourself) Network have articles and "show notes" from episodes covering parents who have transformed their yards into more child-appropriate environments. Home and Garden Television also has several examples, complete with before-and-after pictures and links to sites to find out more.
Other forums online such as The Garden Web have discussions with suggestions and even plans from other parents who have been in the same dilemma of trying to turn a humdrum or even unsafe yard into their child's favorite place. The Internet is a great way to share both your problems and solutions with others.
It's Your Yard, Too
Don't forget that the landscape needs to be adult-friendly, too. There are many ways to integrate a relaxing grownup sitting area, barbecue deck, or hot tub into the same yard that has the mulched play area and kiddie pool. In fact, some structures can be multi-purpose - a gazebo, for example, can serve as both a fort or castle for your child's imagination and also a peaceful evening retreat for the adults.
Whatever your final design, building a kid friendly landscape together with your kids will make it the friendliest family place of all.