When you have children, you say goodbye to an ordered and well managed existence. A good night’s sleep, personal privacy, solvency, freedom of choice and speech are all consigned to history as we open the door to a new chapter in our lives.
Parenthood. As a parent, things you once owned and treasured suddenly become endangered. A cherished record collection stamped upon, a pure cashmere sweater puked over – with kids, the collateral damage is far reaching.
And one of the places children can really mess up your cosy, pre-parenthood world order, is out in the garden. If you are a keen gardener who tends your beds, borders and lawns with great care, you are probably quite proprietorial over your special plot. A tranquil garden oasis, a space to escape to after a long day at work, is something most people can appreciate.
Except, of course, if you are a small child.
Therein lies the rub. Once the little sprogs come along, you are going to have to cede garden territory to their needs and desires. The natural and muted tones of your garden palette will be filled with ugly plastic toys in lurid colours, strewn about the place like a junk-yard. They will treat your garden as an exterior playroom, paying no heed to the rare Dahlias or the fragile ferns that will undoubtedly be trampled underfoot.
But, if you take action early enough, it’s possible to do a bit of damage limitation. Whilst the kids are still too young to suspect anything devious of you, get busy with a few sensible garden design choices. If you have the space, think of ways you can annexe a bit of garden for the sole use of the children. Of course, they will need supervision, so screening off with something see-through, such as trellis, light foliage or pleached trees works well. All kids enjoy little huts or dens to play in but such structures can dominate smaller gardens. If they are constructed in garish bright plastic, this can be an eyesore in an otherwise pretty garden space. Choosing wooden playhouses neatly side steps the ugly Wendy House problem, giving kids a solidly constructed fun space made from natural materials that does not jar with the surroundings. There are wooden playhouses of all shapes and designs available to fit neatly into any size garden. By setting the tone with natural materials right from the start, when you come to decisions about swing sets, climbing frames, sand pits etc. continuing the wood theme will be an easy argument to win.
In recent years, no suburban family garden has been complete without a trampoline. However, if you are a keen gardener who values space and peace on your plot, the thought of a trampoline full of bouncing urchins probably doesn’t appeal much. To limit the visual impact, it is possible to dig a very deep hole and sink it into the ground, concealing the frame. It may be necessary to reinforce the sides of the hole to prevent collapse. Once the trampoline is in situe, grade and seed the surrounding terrain so that the surface of the trampoline is level with the existing lawn. A neat solution to a potentially ugly garden carbuncle. And of course, there is the added safety bonus of having less distance to fall if you lose control mid bounce.
Other tricks for saving your garden from the marauding hoards…
Toddlers get hours of fun playing in sandpits and there are attractive solutions to be found. Avoid the moulded plastic versions from the toy shop and instead construct a sand box out of wood. Make it large enough so that when it has a wooden lid fitted, it can double as a seating deck. It is important to keep sand pits covered when not in use to keep out neighbourhood cats.
A wooden storage shed to stow away bikes, toys etc, is a really good idea. Tying a thick rope onto the strong branch of a mature tree is an easy and simple way of adding a fun swing for kids, without encroaching into the garden space too much. When not in use it can be simply tucked away.
So, if you plan accordingly, when you hear the pitter-patter of tiny feet making their way along the garden path, it doesn’t have to mean total capitulation. It will be possible to share your garden space with your kids in joyful and harmonious fashion. And if you really can’t handle sharing, put your name down now for an allotment…