Kid-proofing outdoor spaces
Landart Landscapes’ Matt Leacy* shares his top tips for creating safe and engaging outdoor spaces that not only look great, but are also enjoyabe for kids.
Backyards and other outdoor spaces can be beautiful, relaxing and engaging. When there are kids involved, there is also a requirement for safety, so they can run and play as they please without the threat of accident or injury.
You don’t need to compromise an outdoor aesthetic to ensure a safe and fun backyard. With smart and strategic landscape design, you can achieve both — and it doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg.
If have kids are running around frequently, it’s worth looking at how you can soften surfaces to decrease the chance and severity of damage that can come with falls, accidents and the like.
Cut back trees and plants with sharp branches and consider introducing some soft plantings, hedges and groundcovers to act as barriers around potentially dangerous garden beds and hardscapes. In terms of plantings that look great and work to soften the environment, the best choice depends partly on the particular outdoor space and aesthetic.
Wooly Bush (Adenanthos sericeus) is the softest, most beautiful plant to touch. Kids love them because they look a little pine-like and spiky, but when you touch them they are soft and silky. For groundcovers I recommend Dymondia, Zoysia and Dichondra, as these can be walked over without being destroyed.They are also relatively hardy and able to contend with cooler weather conditions.
Synthetic grasses are also another good option for softening hard ground surfaces.They’re not quite as soft and nice as the real thing, but they’re a fantastic substitute for south-facing play areas where grass won’t grow. They can be laid directly over concrete to help soften and green up an area.
If there are lots of slippery surfaces in areas like patios, walkways and swimming pool decks, adding some non-skid, non-slip surfaces such as pavers or rubber flooring will reduce the risks of falls.
Avoid any potentially toxic or prickly plants that kids might come into contact with. Steer clear of varieties like cactuses, oleander (as a general rule, anything with white sap) hydrangeas, chillies, azaleas, agave and some succulents. If you’re unsure, consult your local garden centre or a landscape designer.
Design and zone to attract kids to safe areas
The easiest way to boost safety and control the ways that kids interact with outdoor spaces is to create child-friendly zones that attract their attention and keep them away from potentially hazardous areas. Kids will be less likely to hang around dodgy areas if you’ve created a safe and engaging outdoor space with lots of fun and engaging activities.
As a starting point, think about what kids love to do and then introduce elements accordingly. Kids that love to draw will be pulled in by a little wall or fence to use as a chalkboard. Large-format pavers can also double as hopscotch squares and on-ground chalkboards.
Other kid-friendly outdoor features include swing sets, rope swings, in-built trampolines, sandpit areas, and mounted and stationed cubby houses. In-built trampolines, in particular, are great as they’re generally safer for children than above-ground trampolines — and they also tend to blend more seamlessly into existing landscapes. In-built trampolines do, however, require a hole to be dug in the ground as well as proper aeration underneath, so it’s worth engaging a professional to handle the installation.
If you’re open to using synthetic grass in a kids’ zone, a putt-putt green can also a fun option to help keep the kids occupied. Adding some comfy beanbags, pillows and camping gives kids little reason to spend time anywhere else.
When deciding where to create a kids’ zone in the backyard, it’s important to consider several factors. Think about what area will work best in terms of preserving the existing outdoor aesthetic, as well as where it’s easy to supervise the kids and ensure they’re properly protected from the elements — rain and sun included.
Areas surrounded by large, secure trees can work well, but you’ll need to be diligent with pruning to prevent dangerous falling branches and the like — especially in windy conditions and environments. If there’s not much access to natural shade or wind cover, man-made options like retractable awnings, big beach umbrellas and gazebos can be options worth considering so that the space can be used by kids regardless of the weather.
Pool safety essentials
Every Australian state and territory has jurisdiction-specific pool fencing laws aimed at reducing risks associated with pool drownings, and all pools need to be fenced in compliance with local building codes and registered with local council.
In particular, pools need to comply with certain height requirements. In NSW, for example, pool fences need to be at least 1.2 m high — and if the pool backs up onto a boundary fence, the boundary fence need to be at least 1.8 m high. There are also minimum requirements pertaining to the height and size of security latches, gaps and horizontal pales.
When installing a pool fence, take the time to properly consider the fence design and how it will affect the existing space — both from a practical and aesthetic perspective. An ugly pool fence can significantly degrade the look, feel and value of an outdoor space — so it’s advisable to engage a landscape designer to ensure you make the right choice.
A professional designer can help to marry compliance and design, matching the need for safety with the need for a fence that enhances the overall outdoor space. They’ll consider things like the ideal fencing material, as well as how factors such as level changes and garden beds can be utilised to integrate the fence into the rest of the backyard and make it disappear as much as possible.
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