This book brings together a collection of articles on Garden Design written by John Mason over several decades of visiting and photographing gardens, writing and teaching; and creating gardens.
John L. Mason Dip.Hort.Sc., Sup'n Cert., FIOH, FPLA, MAIH, MACHPER, MASA
John Mason has had over 35 years experience in the fields of Horticulture, Recreation, Education and Journalism. He has extensive experience both as a public servant, and as a small business owner. John has held positions ranging from Director of Parks and Recreation (City of Essendon) to magazine editor.
John is a well respected member of many professional associations, and author of over thirty five books and of over two thousand magazine articles. Even today, John continues to write books for various publishers including Simon and Shuster, and Landlinks Press (CSIRO Publishing).
Excerpt from Book:
The garden is your child’s most important playground, and a lot of what is learnt about life is learnt playing there.
Building cubbies or tree houses, digging holes, damming streams, etc are all very positive and worthwhile forms of play, but at the same time they are activities which are best tempered with commonsense if permanent damage to the backyard is to be avoided. Never discourage children from playing with their environment, but do educate them to understand the implications of what they are doing.
There are a number of different things children can find interesting in the backyard:
1)Animals - everything from microscopic protozoa, through snails and spiders to the more complex vertebrates such as birds, lizards, dogs and cats.
2)Plants - again, from the simplest microscopic bacteria, to the mosses, fungi and ferns, shrubs and trees. Play can be centred around complete living plants (e.g. growing a garden) or parts of plants (e.g. arranging flowers or making a whistle from a piece of bamboo).
3)Earth - stones, rocks, sand and soil, etc are all commonly used in play.
4)Manmade objects - toys and playground equipment are the most obvious manmade play objects however things such as buildings, walls, pavements, fences, etc have tremendous play potential and don’t cost any extra. Too often, however, instead of exploiting the play potential of these things we discourage or even ban play around them. For example:
Brick walls can become rebound walls.
Fences and walls can be used for murals, or a lean-to cubby house.
A play space is made up of surfaces, play structures (equipment etc), plants, earth shapes, fences, walls, seats, steps and perhaps other landscape features. Think about how the following can become part of a child’s play space:
Different levels - mounds, slopes, embankments, steps, cliffs.
Different surfaces - grass, earth, sand, gravel, mulch, rubber.
Things that enclose spaces - fences, walls, cubbies, other buildings.
Water - ponds, fountains, streams, drinking fountains.
Landscape features - statuary, bridges, pergolas, arbours.
Furniture - seats, tables, rubbish bins, BBQ’s, lighting.
Plants - hedges, mazes, topiary, trees, windbreaks.
Play structures - slides, swings, see-saws, climbing frames.
Other play facilities - games courts, rebound wall, bike trail, skate area, animal enclosure, etc.
When catering for kids you have the job of selecting and combining these components to achieve an appropriate environment which will enhance play in the area being designed.
If you want your backyard to be good for the kids to play in, you need to consider the following:
What are the children’s ages? Toddlers enjoy exploring and learning about their physical surroundings. It is important to include variety in textures, smells and surfaces. Older children interact more with each other so the backyard needs to be designed to allow them to play with each other rather than with things.
How much will the garden be used? Things which can only be used by one child may create conflict. Crowding makes accidents more likely so design safety becomes more critical. Leave room around playground equipment and make sandpits big enough for all the children. Heavily used play areas need stronger construction and more frequent maintenance.
How much time will be spent in the garden? A child’s attention span is short. Some play activities are only suited to playgrounds which are to be used only occasionally or for short periods of time. Don’t expect a child to use the same swing all day every day, but they might use a sand pit more often.
Plants in Play Areas
Plants have too often been underused or misused in playgrounds.
Above all, avoid using poisonous plants in areas where small children play. It has been said that more than one third of commonly grown plants have some toxic properties. Children below the age of 5 or 6 frequently place parts of plants in their mouths.
On the positive side, plants can be many things to a child’s play:
They can become play structures (providing mazes, cubbies, climbing etc).
They can modify the environment (providing shelter from sun, wind, rain).
They can define spaces (providing enclosure, protection, separating different parts of the play space).
Trees should be selected according to both strength of timber (i.e. ability to withstand use by children), and disease resistance (e.g. a birch which is highly susceptible to internal rots can become unsafe for climbing). Prickly or poisonous plants are also unsuitable.
The following trees can be suitable to hang a swing from or to climb in:
Quercus (the oaks)
Fraxinus (the ashes)
Platanus (plane tree)
Pinus (pines) - only problem can be sap running from tree wounds
Prunus (peaches, plums, cherries, almonds) - excellent small climbing trees for young children
Crepe myrtle (Lagertroemia indica) - also good for small children
Cubby Houses are very important in a child’s early life. They provide children with a place of their own where they can do things which can’t be done anywhere else (even in their bedroom). They don’t have to be a makeshift eyesore in the garden, but be sure to remember it’s the children’s building and they must be the interior decorators. If the parents build, buy or arrange everything inside the cubby it will stop being the child’s cubby but reflect the parent’s personalities. Safety is also an important factor. A well-constructed, well-finished cubby will not only look good but will reduce the likelihood of injuries that so often occur in poorly constructed cubbies.
Surfaces for Play
Playground equipment must have soft surfaces underneath them. The most lethal surface under any play structure as far as children are concerned is concrete or asphalt. Hard surfaces are useful in open areas for playing ball games, but should never be used under equipment where children might fall. Sand or organic mulch can be ideal but it must be thick, and it must be maintained.
If you like this book you might also be interested in: http://www.acsedu.co.uk/Courses/Landscaping-Courses.aspx