Don’t try to predict what a child wants in a backyard place space: ask the child what he or she thinks would be fun. Kids’ needs are still pretty simple: they like to walk, run, ride, climb, fly, and swing through the air. They love to explore, build, and pretend. And the outdoor space that’s designed for days of imaginative play should allow children to relax, think, laugh, and create. The yard could be a springboard for a child’s potential; the fun space where kids can be kids.
In designing a garden with children in mind, your first inclination might be to buy the biggest playset with all the bells and whistles or create the largest playground, guaranteed to transform your yard into the neighborhood theme park. The envy of your child’s peers. Make the design intriguing, with a sense of adventure and mystery, like there always might be something around the corner that’s worth investigating. Whether your space is on 2 acres or is an urban courtyard, make it a family project. Kids love to be a part of something and feel special when their ideas are considered and executed.
Enjoy these 15 fun and imaginative play spaces that will keep kids happy no matter where they live.
- Bee and Butterfly Garden Helen Rose Wilson Garden DesignThis landscape, created by Helen Rose Wilson Garden Design is just outside London, England. Filled with tall-blooming annuals and perennials, the whimsical touches are the oak-log stools. Called a “stumpery,” the stools were made of well-seasoned, untreated oak that eventually fades to grey. About one-third of each log was buried into the ground for stability. After five years, Wilson says the children still enjoy their stumpery. “Once they have grown up, the stumps can be left to grow interesting fungi and will provide an excellent habitat for wildlife.” Ferns and hostas fill in the additional greenery.
- Family Gathering Courtyard Shades of GreenCalifornia-based Shades of Green Landscape Architecture reworked an unusable slope in a front yard by lowering the space and building retaining walls and steps on the street side. A patio made of decomposed granite accommodates a busy family of all ages who can do activities at the low table, play on the native-grass lawn, talk by the fire pit, and relax near the water feature. Creating privacy walls are raised garden beds filled with succulents, ornamental grasses, and drought-tolerant fauna. A horizontal-slat fence at the entry also adds privacy and gives the space a courtyard aesthetic.
- Colorado Redrocks Haswell LandscapingColorado-based Haswell Landscaping used local rocks and redstone in assorted shapes, sizes, and colors for this family’s outdoor space. Some of the stones have naturally occurring lichen in sage green and yellow hues, which livens the color scheme. The route to the children’s playset is fun and adventurous; a multi-textured curving road with stones and pocket plants that add height. Smaller river rocks suggest a dry creek bed or arroyo.Continue to 4 of 15 below.
- Garden Sandbox Falling Waters LandscapeThis sandbox for a busy family with three children under the age of 10 was designed by Falling Waters Landscape to be incorporated into a garden and surrounded by plants. Concrete was poured in place and plenty of drainage was added, along with a layer of 3/4-inch rock that is about 5 inches deep. The playground-grade sand that fills the box is available at big-box stores and supply yards. Falling Waters recommends adding a cover to protect it from the elements when not in use and using hardy plants to edge the sandbox.
- Rowhouse Play Space The Urban Garden ProjectThe owners of a brick rowhouse in Richmond, Virginia, bought the lot next door and enlisted the help of landscape designers The Urban Garden Project to make it into a nice, big side yard. Working around a rectangular pool and playset, Urban Garden Project’s Carlton Hines cleaned up the space and designed a cohesive landscape that ties together each of the elements and creates a relaxing family yard. Hines used red balau (shorea) hardwood for a horizontal slat fence that complements and updates the red brick. Beneath the playset he used an eco-friendly mulch, the best wood mulches are eucalyptus and melaleuca, which has a pleasant scent and deter fleas and garden pests. Other environmental mulches for play areas include cocoa hulls and pine needles.
- Kids’ Oasis ThinkteriorThinking like kids themselves, the designers behind Thinkterior create custom kids’ exterior playsets and spaces. The focus behind this particular yard is a 15-foot tree that children can access via a stairway of miniature stumps. Branches feature limbs for hanging or accessing three levels of swings and a slide. Surrounding the tree is an assortment of play equipment and activities incorporated in a custom myWall system. What’s there to do? Draw and write on the chalkboard, test the water toys, or play on the ball wall. Organization pockets store projects and toys.
- Line Double Treehouse Dabah Landscape DesignsSwings are conveniently tucked under a treehouse (or raised playhouse) designed by Dabah Landscape Designs. Dabah included all kinds of fun features into her client’s kids’ cedar play structure, like a zip line that ends with a circus net that allows kids to roll over the edge to get out. There’s also a swinging bridge with rope railings that goes between both treehouses. There’s even added lighting for summer sleepovers.
- Walnut Tree House GRG PlayscapesCleverly using a topped walnut tree, GRG Playscapes designed a fun and intimate natural play space to inspire the children of this Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin, residence. The design is imperfect, whimsical, and looks like something that Christopher Robin and Pooh would enjoy.
- Raised Playhouse Dabah Landscape DesignsDabah Landscape Designs raised this playhouse 4 feet on stilts to give the kids a raised platform and to make the angle to the treehouse more accessible. They wrapped the porch around the house and added an upper tree house with a rope bridge for some whimsical, storybook-like fun. When kids reach the top, they feel like they are in the crow’s nest of a ship.
- Southwest Play Space Bill TimmermanA modern house in Phoenix includes a play space that is clean, simple, and reflects the home’s architectural design. Created by Ibarra Rosano Landscape Architects, the space is more about imagination and leaving room for pretend play, running, jumping, and climbing. “The problem with adults is that we forget to play,” says landscape architect Teresa Rosano. She continues: “We begin to believe that play is found around colored plastic contraptions resembling paler adult trappings. But play is more about imagination and soaring in the contemplation of possibilities.”
- Big Fun, Small Yard Kristen Rudger Landscape DesignWhile the homeowners’ yard is small, they felt it was important to integrate plenty of room for a children’s play space. Kristen of Kristen Rudger Landscape Design built a new deck for her clients, which located the family’s entertaining space closer to the lawn and added a climbing wall and slide on the deck. Tree stumps placed in the ground provide fun balancing play leading to a lawn and larger swing set.
- Faux Lawn, Real Fun Pippa SchofieldA garden with a playset and lawn for two boisterous young boys was created from what was once a fully paved back garden. Designed by Pippa Schofield Planting and Garden Design in West London, the space includes an artificial lawn, which means that football can be played outside most of the year. A sleek limestone patio edged with granite offers plenty of space for entertaining family and guests, and the easy-care landscaping is designed to peak in early summer. A new wine red clematis adds dramatic color to the house wall. The subtle lighting makes the garden look dramatic at night and encourages guests to stay outdoors longer.
- Ultimate Playhouse Todd KampEverything about Texas is big, including this extra-big playset created by Grossman Design Build. In addition to a screened playhouse with stone edging, it features a large covered treehouse supported by stone pillars with a sandbox underneath. There’s also a rock wall, ship captain’s steering wheel (or whatever you want it to be), and a tubular, winding slide. The playhouse features a front porch, so you can watch the chickens while sipping lemonade in a rocking chair.
- Hobbit House Todd KampThe mini house, designed by the Dallas firm, Grossman Design Build, is accessed via a ladder that’s inside the house. The funhouse goes on and on: leading children up, down, around, and through and offers an assortment of activities. Inside the playhouse is a toadstool dining set with windows and doors that open and close. Outside, there’s a platform built around a tree, monkey bars, assorted swings, and a virtual obstacle course of entertaining things to do. Best of all, it’s for boys and girls of all ages and interests.
- Artistic Side Yard Astrid Gaiser Garden DesignA modern house in San Francisco features a yard designed by Astrid Gaiser Garden Design that is meant for adults and children to enjoy together: there are no separate sections for “them” and “us.” Gaiser includes colorful plants and activities that can be enjoyed by all members of the family and assorted friends, such as chalkboards for writing and drawing pictures and room for playing outdoor games.