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Down to Earth: How to make your garden truly family-friendly

The school summer holidays call for a child-friendly garden. It’s wise to make changes temporary, though, as this time too shall pass, writes Cambridge designer Robert Barker

Make your garden work for all the family - from young to old
Make your garden work for all the family - from young to old

For the parents of young children among us, this month brings a certain amount of dread, as August is dedicated to children being on summer holidays and that question inevitably comes up: “What do we do with them?!”

It is unsurprising then, that most of the enquiries we receive in August, every year without fail, request designs to include elements that will occupy children. Of course, we are happy to do this - but the advice I frequently give to my clients is to avoid creating a garden actually *for* their children.

Whether we like it or not, children grow up, and creating a garden with a trampoline as the main focal point, or a garden with water slides running from one end to the other, might not be the best of ideas long term.

The better approach is to create a garden with a long-term vision, so that in the short-term, slides, swings and trampolines can have their place, but the garden as a whole can still be enjoyed by adults as well. Then when the children’s play ‘equipment’ is no longer needed, these areas can be seamlessly transformed into something that works in harmony with the rest of the garden.

My own family and garden are about to go through this particular transition. For years we have had a very large and ugly trampoline in our garden. When we first moved to Cambridgeshire, it meant that my daughter would have to change schools, so the promise of a trampoline in the garden was used as a bribe/incentive to embrace the change.

This, of course, totally worked and for hours she would jump up and down and use it as another location to host tea parties for stuffed teddies and toys. Then my son arrived and soon enough both of them were on the same trampoline, jumping, laughing and screaming (I am sure my neighbours particularly enjoyed this period).

Now, a few extra years down the line, the trampoline sits sadly in the corner of the garden, neglected, colours faded, and netting stretched. My daughter is now getting ready to move up to secondary school, so sadly the tea parties have gone, and instead of an interest in trampolines, my son plays football almost permanently outside, causing my lawn to look as sad as I feel about this transition.

When the autumn arrives, I will take down the trampoline. Bit by bit it will be packed up and disposed of, never knowing the joy it brought. Then the vacant area will be turned into a new border that will work with the rest of the garden. I’m sure it will look lovely, but I will forever miss the tea parties and that very large and ugly trampoline.

* Click HERE for more about Robert Barker Design.

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