Landscaping with a family in mind requires a new approach where practicality and fun reign. However, you don’t need to write off plans for the sophisticated garden of your dreams.

Design expert Pete Tonks explains how certain compromises can create the perfect family garden for now and the future.

Plan your Garden in Two Halves

Most of us dream of a nice manicured lawn for our garden surrounded by neat shrubs and trees. However, soon after the arrival of your little ones, you will begin to cover your lawn with all manner of play-related structures.

This assortment of apparatus is invaluable for the progression and development of our children but it will ruin your lawn, so you may have to accept this for a few years.

Planning the garden in two halves is often the best solution for family gardens. If you are designing a new house or remodelling your home then an open plan kitchen diner that opens up directly onto the garden means you can designate this immediate outside space as a child-safe zone for smaller children. You should ensure you have good sight lines so you can keep an eye on outdoor play.

Safer areas can incorporate:

  • splash fountains
  • soft play materials such as bark or recycled tyres
  • slides
  • treehouses (with safety nets) for play. If you don’t want a treehouse, or don’t have the space, then a den made from woven willow saplings is a good alternative.

Child-friendly Planting

Pick good hard-working varieties that reward you with a long flowering season or autumn colour. Flowers and low-maintenance options are always high on the list but children have a naturally inquisitive nature so take some time to know your plants before you buy.

The world of plants can be daunting, even without the added thought of choosing child-friendly varieties. I would recommend a specialist or independent garden centre or nursery. The staff will be able to guide you around plants to avoid which have irritant sap, thorns or berries that may cause tummy upsets. 

Easy to grow fruit trees and herbs that offer rich scents give you the opportunity to grow things that you can use to cook with your children. Consider:

  • a good apple tree, especially heritage varieties
  • raspberries and blueberries in pots
  • herbs such as rosemary, lavender and mint
apple tree

Children also love bright flowers so don’t be afraid to have borders with good durable perennials including:

  • rubeckia
  • salvia
  • hardy geraniums
  • tall verbenas.

These all flower for many weeks and will happily be picked to produce more flower.

Safety in a Family Garden

family in garden

Check boundaries Make sure boundaries are secure and that any garden gates are lockable so it’s a safe place to play. Check fences and make sure they are in good order.

Use textured materials Materials which are textured are safer as they offer better grip and slip-resistance when wet, so these should form the basis of any hard landscaping. Have a look at textured natural paving or porcelain as both are durable, safe and a good investment in terms of value. Most of the major paving manufactures send out samples and have showrooms so this can be done without making costly mistakes.

safe level play area

Design out trip and slip hazards No garden is entirely risk-free, but we can design out needless trip and slip hazards. Aim for level areas where children can play safely. If your garden is not level and you need to allow for level changes, would slopes and ramps work better than steps or can you combine the two in a way that adds a feature to your space? If you have to have steps, make them as wide and as gentle a rise as possible.

Avoid rustic timbers, rusty metal and polished concrete. We all remember deep, difficult-to-remove splinters and bruises from falling on hard surfaces from our own childhoods!

Avoid changes in levels and water features For those with very young children, avoid too many changes in levels and avoid water features.

You can incorporate water features and ponds into your project from day one, as the most sensible time to construct them is during the initial house build. Just make sure you cover them with temporary decking. This can be removed when the children have grown up a bit and understand the potential dangers.

Likewise, steep flights of stairs and terraces with infinity views can be dealt with using gates.

For children, these potentially dangerous spaces have an added allure and excitement, so we need to deal with them pragmatically and render them safe.

artificial grass

Consider artificial lawns Grass can perhaps be replaced with artificial lawns which can be extremely convincing and easily maintained with a regular hoover.

Swimming Pools

Swimming pools worry those with young children but, according to Kat Lemon from Polypool, some measures can be taken to minimise the risk of the unthinkable.

“An automatic safety cover is the answer as it is easy to use and can even support a small child or dog walking on it in an emergency,” she says.

She also advises ensuring that there’s sufficient lighting in the pool and designing in adequate depths in parts where a slide or springboard might be included.

Other Handy Tips

Place your garage near the house When considering the external environment, think about placing your garage near to the house and most specifically near the utility/boot room entrance.

A covered link and drive-under bay so that you can quickly and easily unload both the kids and the shopping into the house on rainy days, would be useful too.

Include a children’s storage cupboard I would also recommend the inclusion of a good, lockable, storage cupboard for toys and bikes that is exclusively for the kids.


You could have this as a lean-to structure onto your garage perhaps, or as part of a shed/outbuilding. This will keep things out of the garage and avoid the risk of scratched cars.

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