You want a gorgeous yard – show-stopping, maybe, but definitely more than a patch of grass and a couple of bike tracks. Your kids need a safe and engaging place to play. If those two things sound diametrically opposed, we’re here to tell you that when it comes to great landscaping, you really can have it all!
When you have kids, you have to think about everything from play areas to safety. Mud pies are nice, but a yard full of them is probably not what you had in mind. The good news is that with planning and the right design to match your family’s needs, you can have a place that’s fun and gorgeous, too.
Check out just a few kid-friendly and grown-up-approved ideas that will help you create a space for the whole family to love and enjoy.
Start With Child Friendly Plants
Children everywhere have grown up just fine in yards full of rhododendron, even though the plant is highly toxic if ingested. So if you absolutely can’t live without your favorite, albeit toxic plant, be sure to educate family members, and make sure kids know where their safe play spaces are.
But if you’d rather have as safe a space as possible then there are some plants to avoid, and others that you can give the green light.
Yew is a classic garden shrub but all parts of the plant are toxic. Its berries can be especially tempting for young children but the seeds inside are highly poisonous.
Angel’s Trumpet and Wolfsbane are other landscape favorites, but they’re both poisonous and can cause health issues in some people when they merely make contact with skin.
There are plenty of dangers, from thorns, to berries that can be mistaken for edible, so what can you plant in a child-safe garden?
Good news – there are quite a few beautiful and appealing flowers, shrubs and trees that you can grow safely and enjoy thoroughly. One of our springtime favorites, Forsythia, fits the bill, as does begonia, impatiens, fountain grass and more. Daisies are also on the kid-friendly list, and what child doesn’t love collecting a fistful of wildflowers to bring to mom?
Know your tolerance for risk, and let that guide the plants you choose for your outdoor space.
Include A Butterfly Garden
There are some landscape additions that appeal to adults and kids alike, and butterflies are one of them. Retailers have been tempting families for a long time with kits that promise home-grown butterflies, but why not invite them naturally into your garden and enjoy them all summer?
There are a few tricks to creating a flourishing butterfly sanctuary, and they include plants, water and resting spaces.
Butterfly bush is one plant that does exactly what it sounds like – attracts butterflies. As a bonus, hummingbirds love it, too. Goldenrod and aster are just two more favorites of these winged garden gems.
In addition to alluring plants, you’ll want to provide your butterflies with plenty of light, and some flat stones for sunning themselves. A bit of water will help, too.
Oh, and if you want to start with caterpillars, just include some plants that provide attracting nesting places, like tall grasses and milkweed! You and your children can enjoy the full butterfly lifecycle right there in your own back yard.
Create A Family Gathering Spot
Kids need a play space, but families need together-time, so build that right into your landscape from the start. Gathering spots can be built around your family’s unique needs, hobbies and routines.
Tables and seating can provide a space for crafts, dining, board games, and even homework. A pergola with an outdoor TV is a great way for the family to enjoy movie night or a big game from beneath the stars.
Create spaces that facilitate conversations, with features like a fire pit where the family can gather for stories, sharing and maybe a couple of toasted marshmallows.
Remember to create privacy, whether through fencing, bamboo screening, tall grasses or other landscape elements that will establish a bounded space where everyone can feel safe and cozy.
Raised vegetable beds, a patio water garden, or natural sandbox are other elements that will not only look great but give you built-in family activities that everyone can enjoy.
Make Sure There’s Shade
You want to encourage kids to go outside and play but you don’t want them to show up well-done at the end of the day. Sunscreen is important but it can only go so far if the kids are outdoors for hours at a time. That’s why it’s important to include dependable shade sources where they (and you!) can cool off and relax.
Trees are the natural choice, but if you’ve just planted them it may be a while before they can provide the shade you need. Don’t worry, there are lots of other options that will provide shade and also be a source of beauty and enjoyment.
A pergola or gazebo can be a place to sit, play, and get out of the sun for a while. You can include furniture and area rugs, climbing vines and flowers, lighting for evenings, and even a ceiling fan depending on the type of structure.
Even something as simple as an umbrella can create a shady spot for relaxing or play, especially when paired with an outdoor table and seating.
Designate Space For Storage
The natural world offers wonderful opportunities for kids to play, learn and decompress. Everything from sandboxes to tree stumps and puddles can be a playground for kids. But let’s face it – they’ll probably want to do more than play with rocks.
That usually means bats and balls, nets, bikes, skateboards, pails and shovels, and other kid stuff that may be plenty of fun, but doesn’t look so great strewn about your yard.
No, you don’t have to live with a mess of toys (or even grown-up tools and recreation items), and you don’t even need to involve the garage. There are myriad ways to build storage right into your landscape deign. It just depends on what you need to store and which storage solutions work best in your space.
A shed is an obvious choice, but you can create clever storage spaces in other ways, too. Chests made of natural wood, tables that double as storage containers, benches with cabinets or shelving beneath, baskets or large planters, and just about any place there’s a nook that can be converted into a hidden home for toys, games or gardening tools will all help you keep your yard tidy and lovely without taking away any of the fun.
Incorporate A Swimming Pond
You want a pond, the kids want a swimming pool. But you don’t have a yard the size of a football stadium.
No need to compromise, you can both win!
A natural swimming pond can be a home for your koi and a child’s summer dream. Imagine all the beauty of a pond, with its tall grasses, stately cardinal flowers, romantic lilies, and soothing waterfalls, combined with an exciting and unique play experience for your children. We bet nobody will miss the diving board!
As an added bonus, a swimming pond is free of chemicals and chlorine, and never requires vacuuming. A naturally balanced ecosystem pond will practically take care of itself. Plants, waterfalls, biological filters, and natural stone work together to create a clean, safe environment for your children to play and for your favorite water critters – whether fish, snails, or frogs – to thrive.
Don’t Forget The Mud Pies
Sometimes you just need a good mud pie. If you missed one of our recent posts, we talked about how special microbes in soil can act as natural antidepressants, instilling a sense of relaxation, reducing stress and improving concentration and creativity.
The next time your kids dig their hands into the dirt, you can remind yourself that it’s actually good for them. But that still doesn’t mean you want them upending your flower beds.
Of course there are other ways to incorporate a little playful dirt into your space! How about filling a charming old wheelbarrow with sand or soil and letting the kids go to town with spades and pails? You can even let them experiment with some kid-safe flowers or leafy greens if they want to explore their budding green thumbs.
The point is that your rustic décor has become their unique play station.
We hope you’re inspired to imagine how your outdoor space can be turned into something enjoyable and beautiful for your whole family. If you’d like to explore ideas and start planning your space, contact us for a consultation. Our landscape designers are here to make your outdoor dreams come true.