How To: Create an Elegant Garden Your Kids Will Love

Gardens can be magical play spaces for children, but so often, outdoor areas designed with play in mind include unsightly plastic and metal structures that might make garden enthusiasts cringe. Fortunately, there are many ways to plan an outdoor space that will enchant your children without sacrificing style and beauty. Rochelle Greayer has written about this recently on her lovely garden blog, Studio G. Her ideas inspired us to come up with a few of our own, and we put them together with some more inspiration from around the web...

Here are a few of Rochelle's finds (follow the photos above):

• Swings don't have to look like they belong in a schoolyard. This set, built by Blasen Landscape Architects, blends beautifully and organically into the garden, and the swings are well-sized for both adults and kids.

• This concrete slide is from Blasen too. What a fun way to incorporate a slide; the design flows seamlessly, so that the slide is anything but an eyesore, and because it actually gets you from one part of the garden to another, it encourages active play (rather than the static, "enclosed" play of, say, a sandbox or a jungle gym).

• The Auricula Garden Theater is a charming little feature that was popular in 19th-century English gardens. Auricula primroses have a kind of cartoonish quality that would make this a cute addition to a kid-friendly garden. As Rochelle points out on Studio G, it wouldn't be too difficult to make one; all you need is a friend with basic carpentry skills.

• A willow-branch tunnel is gorgeous, and there is no end to the fun kids could have with one of these.

Some more ideas...

• How about re-thinking the "playhouse" concept to fit within a modern, stylish garden? These willow huts from The Willow Farm (last photo above) are beautifully made, and even if you don't have enough space for a whole village, a single one tucked in the corner of a yard would be just perfect.

• When you design your garden beds, think about bringing in plants that will give the garden a whimsical, playful feel. Asparagus fern has a Dr. Seuss-like quality that can be fun. Plants with texture and fragrance, like the fuzzy lambs' ear or sweet-smelling pineapple mint, will make the garden itself more welcoming to children.

• If you live in a climate where it gets warm, water features to play in are of course a fantastic idea. We used to run through the sprinklers as kids (didn't everyone?) but that kind of thing obviously doesn't work if you're trying to conserve. A water feature designed to recycle water is a perfect compromise...

Our favorite children's garden is in the Royal Botanical Garden in Melbourne, Australia, where there is a terrible drought, but the garden's water features are designed to teach children about conserving. There's a garden "path" that resembles a winding river, with water flowing for children to splash through as their parents stroll down the nearby gravel walkway. The garden also includes a "tree tower" for children to climb for a view of the whole garden, as well as an enchanting bamboo forest and a series of tunnels made from overhanging trees. For some serious inspiration, visit the Ian Potter Foundation Children's Garden web site to learn more about this amazing space.

• Lastly, if your children are old enough, why not involve them directly in the planning and maintenance of your outdoor space? Give them a raised garden bed where they can plant veggies and flowers, and take a trip to the local nursery to let them pick out the plants themselves.

Click over to Studio G to read Rochelle's interesting post about why a jungle gym isn't as fun or enticing for kids, in the long run, as a well-designed garden with some child-friendly features. Her blog is packed with other outdoor inspiration as well.

How have you made your outdoor space child-friendly? When you were little, did you dream of treehouses and jungle tunnels? Share your children's garden ideas below.

(Images: Blasen Landscape Architects (first two photos); Flickr member tpholland, licensed under Creative Commons; Flickr member usedcarspecialist, licensed under Creative Commons; The Willow Farm)