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What makes the perfect family garden?

Children can learn a lot from playing in the garden.

When considering the perfect garden most of us want perfect manicured lawns, pretty, neat flower beds and perhaps a charming water feature.  But how useable is a garden where everything has its place?  And how much can kids enjoy it?

The typical British garden is all about a nice patch of lawn and a good stock of summer flowers, perhaps a patio for BBQs and maybe even a swing.  But thinking about how your garden will really work for you can turn the typical backyard in to a family paradise, whether large or small.  Observe how children use a garden – they touch, smell, taste, they run around and they pull up flowers.  Little girls love daisies as much as they love roses, little boys like getting down in the grass as much as playing on a swing.

Banish ideas about neat, straight lines, weekly mowing and coordinated colours.  If you have a lawn why not leave a section wild and unmown?  Here bugs will breed, frogs might hide and wild flowers and grasses will sow, children and adults alike will love laying in the tall grass, family pets will hide in it and bound through it.

When it comes to planting beds, pick plants for their colour and the way they feel, things that smell unusual or beautiful or are edible.  Use tall, round alliums, spiky grasses, aromatic herbs, smooth, furry lambs ear, plumes of astilbe and cut and come again lettuces, don’t be afraid to mix vegetables in to flower beds, plant edible flowers such as nasturtiums, sweet peas or asters in bright, garish colours which can be picked without issue.  Avoid those plants that are irritating or poisonous and learn the names of everything you plant to teach to small children learning new words – plant names are exciting and unusual to curious little people.

Ponds are often considered a no-no in a garden where young children will play.  However, it is a shame to miss out on lovely water lilies, an abundance of newts, croaking frogs and their jelly like spawn.  Children learn not to go near water if dangers are explained to them and fencing can keep them away from an untimely splash.  Supervised pond dipping can offer an afternoon of fun as can rearing tadpoles in a jar afterwards.

In the same way, fill your garden with piles of logs, upturned pots and large rocks under which spiders, caterpillars, ants and beetles can be found or even in which hedgehogs can hide. This will encourage young children not to be afraid of bugs and creepy crawlies and help to teach them about basic biology. Not to mention hours of fun catching butterflies or counting spots on ladybirds.

Beauty in a garden doesn’t have to mean pink climbing roses, neat rows of cabbage or modernist sculpture, in a family garden it’s beauty should be in discovery, excitement and usability and there’s nothing neat and tidy about that.
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