How to Design a Children’s Garden

(Multi-coloured, slopes up)

This practical garden is ideal for people with young children, although later it can easily be adapted into an interesting and pleasant garden for an all-adult household.

The view from the kitchen window as the garden slopes up away from the house is a pleasing one. The rectangular patio joins the main circle of the garden which is grassed over and surrounded by a hard surface outer circle. These two shapes married together make an unusual and exciting combination.

The grass area is suitable for parents and young children to sit and play in, and a perfect spot for watching small children circling round on a tricycle on the hard outer surface designed expressly for that purpose. As the children grow up, the grass can be used for swingball or sunbathing.

Behind the main circle the garden opens out into a semi-circular space for a climbing frame and small swing. The raised earth behind is held back by 2ft 6in (75 cm) logs placed upright and butt-jointed in the soil. Chip bark, shredded bark or bark flakes covering the earth provides a reasonably softened surface should the children fall off the swing or climbing frame. 6 in (15 cm) of pea shingle is also an effective surface under children’s climbing frames, swings and see-saws, but it is not as effective as shredded bark.

childrens garden

Grass in this area beneath the swing would have been tiresome to maintain as small feet constantly walking on it would wear it away; besides which muddy feet going in and out of the house would not be welcome. The grass in the centre ring need only be cut each week with a small rotary mower.

Between the main circle and the swing area another half-circle is reserved for the sand pit. This can be converted into a paddling pool providing the correct type of liner is used in the first place. Suitable fibreglass liners can be bought in many shapes and sizes at most large garden centres. Behind the swing area, an Acer palmatum (Japanese maple) tree breaks up the line of the fence; on hot days it provides some shade and is a safe tree for children as it has no poisonous berries.

Behind the sand pit the earth is again held back by logs with periwinkle or similar resilient low-growing evergreen flowering plants planted at the base of the retaining wall.

The sand pit area gets full sun until well after tea time. It can be seen clearly from the kitchen window and is easily reached from the kitchen door should there be a mishap. It is important that children’s play areas are built in sight of the house and in the sun, not in dark, damp and uninviting corners. But remember that very small children need protection against the sun.

On the opposite side of the garden the retaining log wall and closely planted evergreen shrubs behind the seat catch the late afternoon sun and conceal the path to the rotary clothes line. This space could alternatively be used as a secluded sitting area or opened out for a Wendy house if the family have a tumble drier.

At the end of the garden is a sunny space for vegetables plus a little shade by the boundary wall for such vegetables as lettuce. A second shed for storing prams and bicycles, plus a compost pen for grass cuttings, leaves and kitchen waste, are situated on the right and left.

It is never too soon to introduce children to plants and a little simple gardening. So this space would also be ideal for children to have their own garden and grow easy vegetables like courgettes, broad beans, calabrese, spinach, shallots, radishes, potatoes, beetroot, leeks and nasturtium flowers if the vegetable patch is not needed for adults. Children can be encouraged to grow plants in pots, then, should they become neglected, they can be transplanted into the beds by the parents.

But if you do not want the space for vegetables or children, each area including the terrace can be slightly, enlarged, or taller-growing evergreen shrubs such as choisya or rhododendrons can be planted instead, screening the end and giving the impression the garden goes on forever! Bamboo can also make a dramatic and interesting feature in a garden and in full sun Arundinaria viridistriata is stunning with its green and gold stripe. It grows to 3 ft (90 cm) but must have full sun otherwise the leaves will just be shades of pale green.

Herbs and Fragrance

Soft herbs, of which you can eat everything that you cut from the plants, such as parsley, mint, fennel, basil and chervil, are useful to have as near to the kitchen as possible. Plant these herbs outside the kitchen window in a raised planter at window-box level, with a cupboard for garden tools and children’s garden and sand pit toys below. To cover the wall a rose can be planted in the ground on either side of the planter: choose a sweet-smelling rose whose perfume can be enjoyed through open patio doors and the kitchen windows, or while sitting outside; Kathleen Harrop is a lovely thomless climbing rose, safe for children and ideal for such a spot. Jasminum officinale would be another good choice.

The hard herbs, which grow on twiggy stems which you cannot eat, such as sage, thyme and rosemary, can grow on the left of the kitchen door where they will get full sun. A rowan tree which has non-poisonous berries, safe for children, is growing behind, so even if it is raining they can still be picked with a quick sprint across the terrace before the hair loses all its curl!


Couples with young families seldom have time to sit down for long until after the children have gone to bed or are grown up. Therefore there is all the more need for several easily accessible seating areas to rest weary limbs for a few moments while occupying children or watching them play.

European hardwood armchairs or log seat on either side of the sand pit and a wooden bench on the opposite side of the circle set back into the plants are pleasant places to sit and observe youngsters.

The patio lends itself happily to a variety of positions for tables and chairs for eating outside – including, if desired, a space for a garden hammock on the left of the patio window where it will get the afternoon sun.

A barbecue may not be needed but, if it is, a convenient place for it is opposite the kitchen door, handy for taking the food from the fridge, collecting the mustard and throwing rubbish into the dust bin on the right.

The patio itself is in three square sections and can be made up of simple flag stones, riven concrete paving slabs, bricks or large terracotta tiles, according to taste and budget.

Although much in demand for paving areas of small formal town gardens, York stone is very expensive and does tend to go very dark with time. But more important it is not advisable for a young family as it is very slippery when wet. Young children may skid and hurt themselves on the hard surface, to say nothing of the hazard to the visiting older generation.

If you choose brick, make sure it is a paving brick not engineering brick which is smooth and also very slippery when wet. A tinted concrete paving slab would be a good choice.


The question of how little or how much the property is already overlooked is of prime importance when deciding what fencing to choose. If you want privacy, you must have an adequate barrier between your property and the next. In a garden where there will be small children the fence needs to be a solid 6 ft (nearly 2 m) high timber fence to prevent youngsters wandering out of the garden. A section of the fence can be painted with blackboard paint (obtained from educational suppliers or school or play groups), ideal for outdoor murals done with chalk.

Important Notes for Children

1. Children should keep shoes on when the lawn is being mowed.

2. Use an electric circuit-breaker on all electrical garden tools for safety in the home with children and pets.

3. Do not water if electric lawn mower is in use.

4. Do not let children play with the mower.

5. Do not leave glass or garden tools on the ground especially when children have bare feet.

6. Use perspex tumblers and mugs in the garden.

7. Tools and machinery should be stored out of children’s reach.

8. Store garden chemicals out of reach or lock them away as they could be mistaken for food and may be poisonous.

9. Do not use identifiable drink and food bottles and jars to store chemicals. Always store chemicals in their original containers.

10. Do not use slug pellets as they are dangerous to children and pets.

11. Garden light fittings, except those that are well above 4 to 5 ft (about 1.5 m), are not recommended in gardens where there are children.

Some Poisonous Plants to be Avoided

Before listing poisonous plants to be avoided where there are children, it is important to point out that it should be explained to children that although the plants in their garden are not poisonous, there may be poisonous plants in other people’s gardens. Therefore they should never eat leaves of unfamiliar plants or berries. Laburnum (tree) and oleander (flowering shrub) are only two of the many popular yet poisonous species that can be found in many gardens.


Pagus sylvatica (Beech)


Primus x amygdalo – persica ‘Pollardii’ (Ornamental Almond)

Quercus (Oak)


Aconitum (Monkshood)

Aquilegia (Columbine)

Avena (Oat grass)

Caltha (Marsh Marigold)

Helleborus (Christmas rose)


Polygonatum (Solomon’s seal)

Pulsatilla (Pasque flower)


Juniperus (Juniper)

Taxus (Yew)




Daphne mezereum

Hedera (Ivy)

Hippophae rhamnoides (Sea Buckthorn)

Water and Safety

Each year there are accidents in the garden. Toddlers fall into fish ponds, bog gardens and little pools. The shock of the water can stop the youngster’s heart. This and not the depth of the water is often the cause of tragedy. So do fence off or cover over or drain away any water if there are very young children in the house or visiting. The paddling pool should be drained or covered if it is not in use. Always make sure there is an adult present if a toddler is near water.

Bonfires and Fireworks

Fireworks are dangerous, so always follow the firework code printed on the box. There are thousands of accidents involving children and fireworks each year.

Keep bonfires well away from house, trees, sheds and fences. Do not make the fire too big. Keep children well away from flames. Do not light bonfires in a strong wind in a small space near property and remember smoke from bonfires can be extremely annoying to other people, especially in summer: it is civil to check with neighbours before lighting a bonfire. Do not leave a smouldering fire; make sure it is properly put out.

Plants for the Children’s Garden

Bright colourful planting scheme.

T = Trouble free


T Sorbus ‘Joseph Rock’ (Yellow berries) or S. ‘Embley’ (red berries) (Mountain ash or Rowan). Excellent and interesting tree for a small garden. Grows to 15-25ft (4.5-1.5in) and has a neat upright habit. Mid-green divided leaves, white flowers in May and June and red or yellow berries in August. Splendid yellow/orange autumn foliage offsets the berries if the birds don’t get them fust!

T Acer palmatum ‘Senkaki’ (Japanese maple) Slow-growing coral bark maple. Height 15ft (4.5in). Spread 8ft (2.5m). Yellow/green leaves becoming pale green in summer and brilliant cream autumn colour. Coral coloured bark, really striking in winter. A most beautiful tree.


T Senecio greyii ‘Sunshine’ Excellent evergreen shrub. Height 3ft (90cm), spread 4-6ft (1.2-1.8 m), grey/green leaves with silver underside. Yellow star-like flowers from June to July. Extremely tolerant and reliable plant. Prefers sunny position but will do well in shade. Prune hard in spring if you want a neat shrub.

T Mahonia (Oregon grape) ‘Undulata’ and ‘Pinnata’ Evergreen shrub. ‘Undulata’ yellow pendulous scented flowers early spring followed by bluish black berries with bluish bloom. Lovely dark green wavy and glossy leaves. ‘Pinnata’ flowers late winter and has grey/green leaves. Excellent plants under trees or in the sun or shade. Height up to 5ft (1.5m), and nice and bushy.

T Hyssop officinalis Evergreen bushy shrub. Aromatic dark green leaves and blue flowers on spikes June to August. This is a delightful herb and safe for children. Clip it over in spring. There are also white and pink flowered varieties.

T Skimmia Another trouble-free evergreen shrub which provides interest in summer and autumn. This has tiny pinkish white flowers in spring and bright red autumn berries which last all winter and are not poisonous. Nevertheless, children should be taught never to eat any berries from trees and shrubs. Height 3-4ft (about 1m). Spread 3-4ft (about 1m). Needs shade or the leaves may ‘bleach’ in the sun.

T Escallonia ‘Apple Blossom’ This bushy evergreen shrub is also ideal for adding colour and interest. It has small shiny mid-green leaves and delightful pale pink and white flowers, born freely from June to October. Prune in spring. Prefers sun.

T Weigela florida ‘Variegata’ An attractive compact shrub with lovely broad cream-white leaf margins on the light green leaves and an abundance of pale pink flowers growing in clusters from each stem in May and June. Prune to keep in shape.

T Potentilla Elizabeth Yellow flowers. 3-4ft (about I m) high and wide. Nice long-flowering hardy deciduous shrub which looks like dead twigs in winter (so do not pull it out!). Just trim in early spring to keep in shape.

Ceanothus thyrsiflorus ‘Repens’ (Californian lilac) Wonderful shrub once established. It has beautiful display of bobbles of small blue flowers in May and June. Shiny dark evergreen leaves. Grows to 3ft (90cm). Spread 5-6ft (1.5- 1.8m) and perfect as a mound near the front of a border. Some branches may die back in a cold winter and should be cut off in spring.

Fuchsia magellanica Versicolor Hardy shrub. Height 3—4ft (about 1m). Slender pink flowers July to October. Grey-green variegated leaf, rose-tinted when young. Fuchsias, which are often overlooked, are now back in fashion and can be relied upon to give splendid autumn colour.


Lonicera ‘Dropmore Scarlet’ (Honeysuckle) Height 10- 15ft (3-4.5m) A deciduous climber. From June to August drooping red unscenled flowers with cream insides.

Lonicera Periclymenum Scrotina flowers from July to October, and is a variety of the native honeysuckle. Lonicera ‘Gold Flame’ has fragrant yellow flowers 11-2 in (4— 5cm) long from July to September. If the two are planted side by side there will be a nice show of yellow and red flowers climbing up together. These two are not quite as vigorous as ‘Dropmore Scarlet’.

Clematis ‘Nelly Moser’ A popular and spectacular twining climber with mid-green deciduous leaves and lovely pale pink with purple/red stripe flowers from May to September. Height about 12 ft (3.5m).

T Clematis viticella ‘Abundance’ Double pompom flowers in summer. Deciduous dark green leaves.

Climbing Rose Zephirine Drouhin A reliable Bourbon rose ideal on a north-facing wall which helps to prevent its one failing, mildew. It has stunning, bright magenta pink, sweet-smelling semi-double flowers throughout the summer. A thornless rose, grows to 9 ft (nearly 5 m). Excellent in a garden where there are children. Is prone to black spot if it does not get a good root run.

Kathleen Harrop, a sport of the above rose, has pale pink flowers, no thorns, sweet scent but is a little less vigorous.

Herbaceous Plants

Herbaceous plants die back in winter and all the plants chosen for these gardens are perennials.

T Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ Height 2ft (60cm), spread 2ft (60 cm). Flat, pink heads, tiny flowers 4— 8 in (10- 20 cm) across in September. Fleshy pale green leaves. Fairly hardy, sun-loving plant. Butterflies love it.

T Hosta sieboldiana ‘Elegans’ Good low-growing summer plant. Broad-leafed hardy herbaceous perennial. Silver/blue leaves, pale lilac flowers in July to August. Can grow to 2 ft by 2 ft (60cm by 60cm). Sun or shade tolerant.

T Geranium Wargrave pink Hardy herbaceous perennial, flowers all summer and brings colour and interest to a border. Fresh green leaves that make excellent summer ground cover. Happy in sun or shade.

T Aster frikartii (Michaelmas daisy) Hardy herbaceous perennial. Height 2 ft 6 in (15cm). Dark green leaves, orange centred soft blue flowers from July to October. Sun loving.

T Bergenia cordifolia ‘Purpurea’ ( Elephants’ cars). Obliging hardy evergreen ground cover. Large leathery flat mid-green leaves which go purple in autumn. Striking deep pink flowers in the spring. This reliable plant is more effective planted next to a spiky or feathery plant as a contrast. Sun and shade tolerant.

Salvia Superba ‘East Friesland’ Hardy perennial. Evergreen sub shrub. Height and spread 2 ft (60 cm). Bushy clump-forming plant with mid green leaves and an abundance of bright blue/purple flowers from July to September. As well as being extremely good ground cover, it is also a useful herb for cooking.

Gladiolus byzantinus Height 2ft 6in (75 cm). Magenta flowers on spikes in June. Long spiky mid-green leaves. This gladiolus is hardy in most gardens.

For the end of the garden, either:

Herbs and vegetables; Bulbs, snowdrops; Wild strawberries; Nasturtiums or Choisya (Mexican orange blossom), Rhododendrons, Arbutus (Strawberry tree) and Arundinaria viridistriata (Bamboo)

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16. June 2013 by admin
Categories: Childrens Garden, Types of Gardens | Tags: , , | Comments Off on How to Design a Children’s Garden


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