Playing - Outdoor Experiences - Garden Design (2015)

Garden Design (2015)

Outdoor Experiences


DESIGNED FOR FUN, gardens large and small can accommodate a range of play equipment for children and the whole family - just ensure it’s safe to use.


Garden games are multi-various and span intellectual pursuits, such as chess, through to traditional games, including football, basketball and badminton. If you have a small garden, consider skittles, boules and quoits, which do not require much space to play. Those with larger gardens could consider a dedicated area of lawn for croquet, bowls or even a putting course.

Vigorous games, such as football and basketball, quickly damage fine lawns so lay a general hard-wearing turf, or a synthetic lawn or hard surface. Dedicated tennis courts will need specialist contractors to install them.

Planting around play zones needs to be robust. Choose shrubs, such as elaeagnus, cherry laurel and cotoneaster, and ground cover, including ivy and vinca, which will regenerate if damaged. Woven willow structures are also ideal for creative play and meld with most garden settings.

Outdoor games: points to consider

Consider participants’ needs and how permanent game or play areas need to be; explore how these areas can be evolved as children grow or your needs change.

Identify how games or play areas can be integrated into the overall garden design.

Ensure you have sufficient storage facilities for your sports or play equipment.

Choose appropriate surfaces for your chosen games.


There is a wide range of products for children’s play, but those that offer the greatest scope for adventurous and creative activity, such as swings, slides, climbing frames and trampolines, are most likely to sustain their interest as they grow. Try also to select products that are empathetic to the character of the garden; wooden and handmade equipment is often more durable and visually pleasing than plastic, while existing natural features, such as slopes for slides, can be used to blend play areas into the landscape.

Play equipment: points to consider

Plan for the future, so play equipment can be substituted as your children’s needs change.

Design areas or zones for sports or games that all the family can enjoy.

Ensure safety of use with soft or flexible play surfaces and net cages for trampolines.

Choose natural materials to integrate play equipment into the design.

“Play equipment can look unsightly, especially in a small garden. Where possible, screen it with trellis and climbers or, if visibility is important, place low plants around the play area to help soften its appearance.”


Treehouses: points to consider

Decide who you want the structure for - children, teenagers or the whole family?

Locate it to create the best effect, blending it sensitively into the surrounding landscape.

Purchase from established companies whose products and work is guaranteed.

Check beforehand for any planning issues and if the tree is listed.

Agree your design plans with neighbours who are likely to be overlooked.

Safety is paramount, especially if you plan to create your own structure.


Den making is a compelling proposition for both children and adults! Whether fixed, free standing, elevated on supports or built into a tree, treehouses are exciting features that stand the test of time and become a valuable asset. There are many companies that specialise in creating treehouses, so check online for details of the range of self-assembly kits, ready-made products and bespoke creations on offer. Most structures are crafted from tanalised softwood or durable hardwood, such as oak. They can be painted, but look best when allowed to weather naturally and blend into your garden landscape. Before building a treehouse, ask an arboricultural consultant to check the tree for general health and establish whether it will withstand the weight of the construction.


Tents and playhouses offer children a special place of their own. Decide whether you want a permanent structure or something temporary, such as a tent, tepee or yurt - children love the novelty of pitching a tent when the weather is fine. Playhouses come in plastic or timber, either as flat-pack kits or ready-made structures, but a more long-lasting and potentially cheaper option is to convert a small garden shed. Tents and other temporary structures add character to the garden but remember if left in place for too long they will kill the grass beneath, so keep moving them to new positions.


All play equipment needs to be safe and installed with care. Play surfaces for domestic gardens should comply with safety standard EN1177 and must be self-draining and non-slip. You can use special tiles and other manufactured surfaces, or a thick layer of bark chips (15cm (6in) or more). It is generally recognised that gravel and hard paving are not suitable as surfaces for play areas.

Play equipment in domestic gardens needs to satisfy the British Toy and Hobby Association standard EN718 and also exhibit the CE and Lion mark indicating that it is safe to use. Look for products that are non-toxic and use paint that does not contain lead. Also ensure swings, slides and other equipment are secured firmly to the ground and have no awkward protrusions to cause children harm. Swings should have ropes that do not wear at fixing points and impact-absorbing seats; slides require side guards and guards and hand grips at the top to prevent falls. Climbing frames must be robust and securely fixed to the ground to prevent them toppling. There is currently no British Manufacturing Standard for domestic trampolines, but models with safety pads covering springs, hooks and the frame are best. If purchasing a commercial model it should meet BS EN 13219:2001. Always surround trampolines with a durable safety net, install it on a soft or springy surface, and maintain a safety zone of at least 2.5m (8ft) around the unit.

Utilise natural and artificially created slopes for play equipment such as slides.


Outdoor games, such as chess, skittles, boules or quoits, are fun for users of all ages.



Swings fit easily into all but the smallest spaces. Make them safe by ensuring they are secured firmly into the ground.


Indulge your interests and passions and make them part of the garden experience. Model railways can be artfully integrated into the design to keep reappearing at vantage points; this one is ‘parked’ at a model station in a shed at night.



When carefully installed, treehouses can become a real asset to the garden, but ensure developments are permitted and neighbours’ privacy is not invaded.



Children love to make dens, and tents are a delightful way for them to indulge in creative play.


Introduce incidental play features for children around the garden, such as this xylophone made from stainless steel.


A timber pergola with galvanised metal poles doubles as an exercise frame with rope handles for various routines.