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How to Choose a Garden Surface for Your Children

Hard surfaces make for hard landings, and as children spend so much time falling over – whether from a rough tackle at football, a mis-timed jump over the skipping rope or nothing more than tripping over their own feet – a child-friendly surface is called for.

Grass

The most obvious surface is grass. It looks good, is a pleasure to sit on and smells delicious when just cut.

Most families enjoy an area of grass to sit or play on, and the key to keeping a family lawn looking good is to choose a suitable grass mixture for your needs. Those including resilient rye grass are ideal for a hard-wearing lawn. Don’t mow too short, but set the blades higher than you would for a luxury lawn so that the minimum finished length is 2-2.5cm/3/4-lin. This is particularly applicable when there are water shortages as the lawn will look better when slightly longer.

garden surface How to Choose a Garden Surface for Your Children

In heavily-used areas, such as that beneath a swing or climbing frame, lay rubber mesh with black rubber matting tiles on top. These are held in place with specially designed pins. The mesh spreads the load and ensures the tiles do not damage the turf and, as the grass grows up through the mesh and tiles, it hides them completely. The joy of this system is that it both protects the grass, and allows you can to mow whenever you please.

Alternatives

If you live in a very wet climate it may be better to choose an alternative surface, because grass takes quite a while to dry after rain and can all too easily deteriorate into a permanently muddy quagmire.

Natural

Much-used areas, such as the ground beneath a swing, can become so compressed that it is as hard as concrete. Here a few bags of chipped hark, which is available from any garden centre, should be laid as a mulch. It instantly creates a surface which looks totally in keeping with its surroundings and provides a very soli landing.

Sand is also a good surface under swings and climbing frames. However it is best avoided if you have pets, as they may decide to use it as a giant litter tray.

Man-made

Over the past few years a number of man-made crash surfaces, previously only seen in municipal play grounds, have appeared on the market. These consist mainly of treated cork or porous rubber malting and dies, which come in every colour of the rainbow. They are excellent, safe surfaces with built-in bounce and are weatherproof and tough enough to cope with extremely hard wear. The downside is dial they are relatively expensive and many should be laid by a professional qualified contractor. It does, however, last for years, and when the children have outgrown the area, it could then be used as an alternative area for outdoor dining.

Artificial turf has been around for many years and, although it is also fairly expensive, it is a good all-weather surface which has proved itself very durable, it is easy to maintain, needing only the occasional hose-down, and it is simple to lay. It provides a gentle landing, and will withstand much more wear-and-tear then real grass.

How to Build a Garden for Children

Children may start off full of enthusiasm for gardening but if they fail to get results, or the results take too long to appear, they will quickly become disillusioned and lose interest. To ensure this does not happen it is vital to give them a good set of tools, a sheltered sunny site, and good soil in which things will grow well.

DonˇŻt try to palm them off with a dry, shady corner which you can’t think of anything else to do with. II you encourage a love of gardening when your children are young it will stay with them for a lifetime.

Once you have chosen a mutually agreeable site, help your child to prepare it. Make sure the soil is well conditioned, adding compost and manure as necessary and do the heavy digging yourself.

When the children are choosing what to plant, gently direct them away from anything that requires too much attention and suggest they select mainly fast-growing, hardy plants, with a few playful ones, such as snapdragons (Anlirriiinum), thrown in for fun.

To get the garden started buy some bedding plants, such as pretty Lobelia, Begonia, Petunia or vivid Zinnia and pansy. These can be put in pots, used to edge the beds, or planted up to spell out the child’s name.

children garden How to Build a Garden for Children

Give children full rein when it comes to choosing colours. They may choose vivid, clashing combinations, but it is important that they feel their patch is truly theirs if they are really going to develop an enthusiasm. So grown-ups must allow them to experiment with any number of strange colours or combination of plants.

Some dramatic plants will not go amiss. Children will delight in the enormous girth of pumpkins and the fantastic colours and strange shapes of gourds. Giant vegetables such as walking stick cabbages are great fun, while the ultimate novelty in any garden must be giant sunflowers, which can reach massive heights. Very little children may find these just too tall and may have more fun with smaller varieties closer to their own height. These will be more manageable, yet still tall enough to create an Alice in Wonderland feel.

When choosing packets of seed, steer children towards plants with large seeds that are easy to handle and can be relied on to give a good display, such as nasturtium (Tropaeoleum) and sunflower (Helianthus),

Other flowers which grow well from seed are the ever-popular sweet pea (Lathyrus) -an excellent choice as they love to be cut -marigolds (Calendula), love-in-a-mist (Nigella), (Papaver), cornflowers (Centaurea cyanus) and foxgloves (Digitalis). In fact foxgloves are a must for any child brought up on the stories of Beatrix Potter. Many nurseries and garden centres sell seed mixes especially formulated for children and these generally offer excellent value for money.

A few bulbs are always a good addition to any garden, as they are extremely undemanding and children are fascinated by the way these lifeless-looking, papery, underground parcels suddenly burst into bloom. Any selection should include a few early spring bulbs to build up anticipation for the start of the gardening year, as well as some which flower in autumn as a final flourish to round off the season.

Excellent spring bulbs are Scilla, Iris reticulata, grape hyacinth (Muscari) and of course that harbinger of spring, the crocus. All these bulbs produce small flowers that are extremely sweet and appeal to children’s love of the miniature. Reliable autumn performers include many varieties of Crocus, Colchicum. Sternbergia, Nerine and Cyclamen: although all of these are small, and very delicate-looking they are actually extremely tough.

Once the children’s garden is planted they should not feel you are constantly inspecting their efforts and interfering, although a little discreet help, such as occasional watering, will probably be appreciated.

Children have extremely good senses and will particularly appreciate plants which have satisfying scents, colours, textures or even sounds.

Whether it be the rustling of bamboo stems and leaves, or whispering of ornamental grasses. This has a particularly strong appeal. Children’s hearing is much more sensitive than adults and many young children can hear the high-pitched navigational squeaks of bats that are totally beyond an adult’s hearing range.

Touch is also an important sense. Children love plants that have interesting textures or strokable flowers, leaves or bark. Silver, velvety-leaved lamb’s tongue (Stachys byzantina), fluffy fennel (Foemiculum vulgare) and wormwood (Arternesia) or the silky petals of tulips are all popular. Many trees appeal to a child’s sense of touch. The pussy willow (Salix caprea), has fluffy catkins, the Himalyan silver birch (Betida utilis jacquemontii) and Chinese cherry (Primus serrula), both have wonderful satiny bark, while the bark of the maple variety Acer griseum is as thin as fine paper and can be peeled off without harming the tree.

Anyone who has witnessed the uncanny ability of children to track down a piece of chocolate wherever it is hidden in the house, will testify to their powerful sense of smell. The garden offers endless opportunities for enticing smells and fragrances that are attractive to voting noses.

They will revel in the heady smell of the white tobacco plant (Nicolinna alata) that releases its fragrance at dusk. Sweet rocket (Hesperis matronalis) and stock (Matthiola) are guaranteed to delight with their smells as sweet as cachous.

For more unexpected smells encourage children to plant chocolate cosmos (Cosmos atrosangiuneus). Besides its unusual dark flowers and velvety petals it releases a strong smell of chocolate. However, this is a tender perennial that needs a sheltered, frost-free and sunny position. The curry plant (Helichrysum italicum) is also surprising with its distinct unexpected aroma of curry.

Encourage children to collect lavender flowerheads, rose petals and other aromatic flowers and herbs. These can be dried and made into lavender bags, pot pourri or ribbon-tied bunches of culinary herbs, which they can give away as presents.

A really exciting present to grow which would impress even the most sophisticated adult, is false topiary. These pieces look astonishingly difficult to produce, but are actually deceptively simple. To produce a spiral, bird, or other similar small design buy a ready-made wire frame for it to climb. As the ivy grows it will cover the frame, eventually hiding it altogether.

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