Garden writer and designer Dawn Isaac reveals the tricks used and choices made in her own family garden which has inspired her latest book, 101 Things for Kids to do Outside

What We Did?

  • Chose swings and a trampoline strong enough for adults to use too
  • Zoned the garden by activity and the sun
  • Gave the children their very own garden spaces in which to be creative
  • Dressed an off-the-shelf flat-pack Wendy house with heritage paint colours and bespoke details
  • Sightlines were planned to be discreet but constant to keep the children in view
a sunken trampoline surrounded by a bank of grass

When Dawn and her husband Reuben moved into a new home nine years ago, the garden was dark and oppressive. The couple pulled out several overshadowing conifers and planted deciduous trees for more light and colour — offering privacy from the neighbours.

They created a big lawn at the heart of the garden with a seating area to one side, a vegetable garden, a children’s play zone, a bucolic evening spot, and a hidden path for the children to find their own route back to the house. “I like zoning,” announces Dawn, “and forward planning.”

Willow Cottage playhouse


Surrounded by generous borders, the lawn is big enough to pitch a marquee holding 100 people. It was the perfect setting for a 40th birthday party — complete with a stage built over the sunken trampoline.

“Children don’t want completely open spaces; they like to be slightly hidden or embraced,” Dawn adds. This was one of the reasons why she surrounded the trampoline with a bank of grass.

Here, Dawn has anticipated adults and older cousins mucking in — the trampoline is big and strong enough for the whole family to enjoy.


Around the corner, just visible through the flower bed, a Sitting Spiritually timber play frame is tough and large enough for an adult and child to chat and swing side by side — with an obligatory shelf on which to rest a well-iced G&T. When the young ones fly the nest, the two swings can be replaced by a bench for Dawn and Reuben.

a colourful playhouse in a family garden

Vegetable Patch

In the kitchen garden, growing veg is a family activity. The children concoct colourful salads into which they toss a medley of edible flowers. The supermarket can’t compete with the family’s curious oca tubers and heavenly tasting tomatoes.

For dessert, or to munch on the spot, they pick raspberries and strawberries which perform year on year and don’t require much maintenance. And, there’s always a patch of kohlrabi, “because it looks like something out of Dr Who,” says Dawn.


The children have two outdoor blackboards, and lots of chalk to express themselves on whatever surface they can lay their hands on — including the York stone terrace by the house.

And, why not? The rain is bound to come and wash the drawings away, by which time the kids will have dreamt up new paths to follow and games to play in the great outdoors.

For Dawn’s blog, visit

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