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  • Introduction

    It can be a tricky balance designing a garden for both children who want to play and adults who want to relax as well. Creating a garden that meets both the needs of active children and wearied parents is entirely possible with careful thought. This guide includes an example of an overlooked, underloved and uninspired garden in the suburbs shows how using zones allows you to meet the needs of both children and parents.

    With careful consideration, you can create a garden that’s fit for the entire family. Whether its young children who want to play, teenagers that want to be left along with their phones or adults who want somewhere to relax. It just takes careful planning. This guide will give you my top tips on planning a family-friendly garden along with a design example that I created recently in an overlooked small urban garden.

    Garden ninja Lee Burkhill planting a border with seedlings

    Here are some key areas when designing a family friendly garden:

    If you’re not using a Garden Designer it worthwhile sitting down and sketching up some ideas of your garden to see where garden features may best sit. Don’t forget to add storage and mark on any existing trees, hard landscaping or existing buildings.

    How to design a family friendly garden?

    Before you start laying down paving or erecting play equipment it is really worthwhile spending some time thinking about how you’re going to use the garden. Just because you are accommodating children with potential play areas it doesn’t mean that adults can have somewhere delightful to relax as well. Here are my top tips.

    1. Use zoning in the garden

    Zones are incredibly useful in garden design. Simply put it’s breaking up the garden space into different distinct areas. A good example is having a play area in one part, usually close to the house so you can keep an eye on your children. Another example may be a grow your own area, away from the play area to grow vegetables or an adult entertaining terrace in the sunniest part of the garden. Storage is often overlooked and I usually add this as an addition to one of the zones usually the grow your own area.

    A child friendly garden design
    Creating distinct areas will help provide all members of the family with a distinct area whether its play or relaxation

    2. Play equipment doesn’t need to be an expensive eyesore

    There’s a huge market out there for massive jungle gyms and play equipment. In fact, you can spend in the thousands for a quality solid play area. However, you need to consider just how active your children are and whether the investment is going to be well utilised. You may find that your children are just as happy on a smaller swing set, rope swing or shed/playhouse. Getting creative can often be both exciting and more cost-effective. In this garden, I used scaffolding poles to create a jungle gym which also doubled as a walkway arbour. Meaning once the children had grown up the structure still has a life.

    A tyre hanging from a tree

    3. Use raised beds

    Raised beds can save you a fortune if you have particularly poor soil or bad levels in your garden. They are also great for children as they act as seat, jumping off areas, playgrounds and mini tables for their adventures. Bringing toy sets outside to play in the borders is super low cost and will allow your children to become creative!

    A modern family garden with verbena and pathways
    See how the raised beds add height, interest and limitless play surfaces?

    4. Paving and pathways can help separate the garden zones

    Paving can really help split up a garden making the zones more obvious. By adding a path off a football pitch/lawn you can help mark out which area is for the children and which is a parent zone. The use of level paths can also double up as road for children’s play or bike track. Using stepping stones can provide a ‘stone river’ for games and the help add drama to a garden. The options are endless!

    Stepping stones in a chinese garden design
    Children love stepping stones through borders or areas of the garden

    5. Integrated garden seating

    Seating is an important function of any garden. However, garden furniture can take up a lot of room and require storage in the winter months. The use of timber raised beds in this garden design meant I could incorporate integrated seating in the form of benches. This gave the client far more seating for those impromptu BBQ’s, parties and children’s playtime. It blends in perfectly with the garden and means they can chase the sun as it moves around this garden.

    A modern family garden seating area

    By planting under one of the benches it helps pull the visitor almost into the garden. When sat there you get the feeling of being sat in the herbaceous border. It also means as you feet rub up against the Thyme you get the wonderful scent of it.

    An integrated garden bench and plants

    Family Friendly Garden Design Example

    This offending garden is a North Facing overlooked house in Manchester which I was asked to redesign. After some extensive house remodelling, the builders had used and abused the back garden leaving it as a compacted mess. It has the trademark random overgrown tree, the unimaginative square lawn and the odd out of control shrub. It retains too much water and has all sorts of different levels and bumps.

    The clients asked Garden Ninja to transform this space into an area that would provide them with an area for two hard working parents to relax and also an exciting space where their young children could play safely. They were also keen to have a wow factor and some brightly coloured plants to encourage wildlife. I got the coffee on and got to work designing them a haven of peace for the adults and somewhere fun for their children.

    Mid morning shade
    The Garden Before the Transformation

    In a small garden, it’s easy to try and cram as much in as possible. We established that they definitely wanted a substantial lawned area for the children to play on. This would become the children’s zone which could evolve over time and wasn’t too precious being used by an army of screaming children, a wendy house, battlefield or makeshift football pitch.

    A family garden with zones, seating areas and plants
    After the transformation

    The adult zone was designed as a raised terrace area which would be screened off in part by planters and raised borders on each side. There was careful access planned should a parent need to quickly get to the children zone and to help provide flow around the garden. These beds and borders helped also break up the neighbouring views giving privacy. They also needed storage and access for bikes. By using cut-through paths to the children’s lawn, it allows movement between the zones and helps join the garden together. Yet encasing the zones in borders with various heights it gives the feeling of privacy when in each zone.

    Family friendly garden design

    By using cut-through paths to the children’s lawn, it allows movement between the zones and helps join the garden together. Yet encasing the zones in borders with various heights it gives the feeling of privacy when in each zone.

    Family friendly garden design hand drawn plan

    The raised beds around the children zone contained a mix of super tough hardy herbaceous perennials, grasses and shrubs. In addition to this, they also had woven through them some beautiful delicate specimens. Thus giving a more sophisticated feel than just bedding plants and evergreen shrubs. These borders were designed to encourage visitors to want to investigate these plants further, ask questions and become engrossed in the drifts of planting rather than focusing on the small size of the garden.

    Standard trees in a raised bed

    How to deal with a shady border in family friendly garden design

    The far left of the garden was dappled shade for most of the day due to a fence and neighbouring trees. By choosing shade loving plants, such as Sanguisorba and ferns that would thrive in the moist conditions I brightened up this area. I also use the two trees, Malus ‘Sparta’ and Sorbus ‘Joseph Rock’ to give some height and further privacy to this area.

    Shade loving plants in a raised bed

    Family Friendly Plant List

    The plants chosen are all super pollinators so great for bees and wildlife. I created a planting scheme that brought colour throughout the season allowing the garden to morph over the seasons extending interest. You can see more below about the plants I used to create this family friendly garden.

    Yellow flowers in a family garden

    The most important thing with a family-friendly garden design is that it actively encourages people to go out into the garden and enjoy it! By spending time considering how to layout the garden, choosing your family garden functions carefully and planting you can create somewhere for the family.

    Do you have a garden that needs a Garden Ninja transformation? Why not get in touch with me to start your own dream garden design!

    If you’ve found this family garden design guide helpful why not follow me on Youtube where I’ve got plenty of gardening guides? Or leave a comment in the blog below with your garden questions for me to answer.

    You can also TweetFacebook or Instagram me with your questions or thoughts. Happy Gardening!

    Gallery Click on a thumbnail to view full size

    Plants used for "Family Friendly Garden Design Guide"

    Textured & Sensory Plants
    • Stachys byzantina
    • Lavender angustifolia 'Munstead'
    • Lavender angustifolia 'Munstead'
    • Lavender angustifolia 'Hidcote'
    • Stipa Tenuissima
    • Stipa Gigantea
    • Thymus
    • Carex morrowii variegata
    • Carex oshimensis 'Evergold'
    Plants for Colour
    • Achillea 'Pretty Belinda'
    • Rudbeckia Hirta
    • Verbena bonariensis
    • Helenium ‘Morheim Beauty’
    • Echinacea 'Hot Summer'
    • Achillea Credo
    • Geranium sanguineum
    • Geranium macrorrhizum Album
    Climbing Plants
    • Star Jasmin
    Plants for Dappled Shade
    • Astilbe arendsii
    • Sanguisorba officinalis
    • Aquilegia vulgaris
    • Polypodium vulgare
    Shrubs and Trees for Family Gardens
    • Hebe 'Autumn Glory'
    • Sorbus 'Joseph Rock'
    • Malus domestica 'Spartan'

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