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An Afternoon in the Garden with Annalise Fosbery: Designing a kid-friendly garden is child’s play

Annalise FosberyGeraldton Guardian
In this column, I want to discuss designing for children in our garden.
Camera IconIn this column, I want to discuss designing for children in our garden. Credit: Colleen Rudolph/Getty Images

It has been a busy few weeks in the garden.

I’ve been busily squishing the white-fly eggs from the back of my broccoli leaves, keeping my children from eating the strawberries straight off the bush before they are ready, and trimming back only the tips of my one-year old passionfruit.

I’ve lost an entire crop of shelling peas to the children who insist on picking the underdeveloped pods. My next strategy is to plant so many and so densely that surely a few peas will make it to my table. But no one can complain about children eating fresh fruit and veg.

This week I want to discuss designing for children in our garden. The primary consideration should be safety, such as:

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  • Sun safety: is there shelter from the harshest midday sun, especially throughout summer?
  • Gardening safety: are the tools, machines or chemicals stored out of the reach of children? Be wary of tucking them “out of sight” because children are curious by nature and if they decide to test out the shovel from behind the shed, they will also likely be behind the shed out of sight.
  • Play safety: are the “play things” appropriate for the age and ability of the children using them? Age recommendations are an important aspect of toy design for a reason.
  • Supervision and/or restriction: We have gates on pools for this reason exactly. We restrict access to the pool unless a suitable adult is present to supervise. Some play equipment or play spaces should be treated the same. If you have small children visiting, you might consider removing the ladder to a trampoline until an adult is able to supervise everyone using it.

How can we design for these considerations? When you consider play equipment such as swing sets, climbing structures, sand pit and even cubby houses think about where you will locate them in the garden.

I have the temporary sandpit visible from the kitchen window so that when I’m preparing dinner I can keep an eye on the children happily pouring sand into one another’s hair. The future location of the sandpit will be across the lawn so that hopefully most of the sand will be shaken off little feet before they walk in the back door.

I’ve planned the sandpit location to be surrounded by garden beds on two sides too so that I can plant for summer shade. It’s a bit of a risky unknown but I’m going to try planting Giant Russian Sunflowers. With some stakes and support they can grow to 3m, and I hope they can create a canopy above the sandpit for this summer until shade trees are established in the future. I’ll let you know how that goes, especially with our wind. But I need to remember to be careful with the stakes and any strings, too. Children love sticks! So I will wait until the plants are tall enough to conceal the stakes a little bit, and I will bury them deep to make it harder to pull them out of the ground.

This afternoon in my garden I’m again soaking up the winter sun. My everlastings have started to bloom, I’ve harvested three heads of broccoli and I’m preparing to plant trays of seed for summer vegies to fuel my family.

Ideas for plants that can provide easy shade for children’s play spaces:

  • Climbing vines over a small pergola, such as passionfruit or orange trumpet vine.
  • Using a tripod trellis to create a shelter, such as sweet peas, native wisteria or sweet potato vine.
  • Plants or trees in pots, especially if you are renting.
  • Shade trees of course, planted on the western or southern side for maximum summer benefit and because the wind will probably sculpt the tree in a northern-leaning direction like the Greenough leaning trees!

Annalise Fosbery is a young mum and landscape architect who has recently returned to live in her hometown of Geraldton.

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