How to Design a Family Garden

Need a garden that leaves room for kids and adults? Check out this guide for design tips suited to the whole family.

Simple Shelter Offers Perfect Play Area

Simple Shelter Offers Perfect Play Area

Adults may prefer a gazebo, but for children, any simple shelter will do, including a living willow teepee. 

Photo by: DK - The Complete Gardener's Guide © 2011 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - The Complete Gardener's Guide , 2011 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Adults may prefer a gazebo, but for children, any simple shelter will do, including a living willow teepee. 

A garden can cater to the needs of every family member—there’s no reason for play areas to dominate. With an integrated design, grown-ups can enjoy more sophisticated pursuits while still keeping an eye on the children.

The first step in designing a safe family area is securing the boundaries to keep out potential hazards. Lock away tools and chemicals, and remove poisonous or thorny plants. 

Children also need the freedom to run around or play ball games, so choose a hard-wearing lawn mix. Make pathways smooth and spacious for pedaling tricycles or scooters, and provide “secret” areas where they can build forts, let their imaginations take flight, or lose themselves in nature. Pebble fountains are a great way to add a child-friendly bit of water, and a bog garden gives the illusion of water but is also very safe. 

A raised patio or deck creates a vantage point for adults and doubles as a sanctuary for relaxing or family dining, perhaps given extra protection with a pergola and trellis panels. Separate the lawn from the seating area using a stylish border of tall, dense plants.

Key Design Elements for a Family Garden

  • Raised beds: Lifting plants above ground level helps to protect them during play and keeps toy trucks and race cars on the right track. If you have dogs, growing vegetables in a raised bed deters trampling or eliminating.
  • Hard-wearing lawns: Choose durable grass seed or turf mix that contains rye grass. Aerate and resow thin patches, and move play equipment to aid recovery. Mixes are available for problem areas such as shade or poor soils.
  • Play spaces: Consider children’s ages before investing in play equipment—look for adaptability: a sand pit could later be converted to a raised bed or pool. Swings have lasting appeal and can be adjusted over time.
  • Wide paths: For easy pedaling, keep paths wide with gentle inclines rather than steps. This arrangement helps protect plants that cascade over the edge of borders, and reduces the wear on grass pathways.
  • Casual seating: Dot benches around the garden, especially in wilder parts where children can connect with nature. Introduce swings, hammocks, or outdoor bean bags. Keep cushions handy for walls and steps.
  • Built-in storage: Stow toys and equipment away so that they don’t clutter the garden. Keep them within easy reach in waterproof cupboards concealed in purpose-built screened storage areas or fitted under hinged seats.
  • Private corners: Adults may prefer a gazebo, but for children, any simple shelter will do, whether a tent, a living willow teepee, or an old shed. Raised platforms and treehouses provide an exciting lookout point.

Other Additions to Consider:

  • Wet-weather play: Include a sheltered area where children can be out of the house no matter the weather. 
  • Nature ramble: Wind narrow paths through wildflowers, or build a zigzag boardwalk over a bog garden.
  • Kids' blooms: Grow plants that attract butterflies and bees and are fragrant, colorful, or oversized.
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