Friday, 27 May 2016

How to make a children's sandpit a garden feature

Combining a children's sandpit with the rest of a garden design is a challenge. The easy way to do it is to have a self contained pit on the patio or the lawn. It can be moved about or packed away when not in use, but means it is simply a toy and not actually part of the garden.

I prefer it to be part of the garden, like a water feature or border is.



Most kids love playing in a sandpit. Having one is a big plus, but the sand tends to spread, meaning you end up with a very sandy area of the garden and have to keep buying more sand to top it up!
 
The sandpit above was designed to visually fit into the rest of the garden rather than simply be a box of sand dropped in at random. It also reduced the amount of sand that ended up strewn around the surrounding area.
 
This was done by creating an Italian style sunken "pool", except that instead of being filled with water it held sand, but the paving stones around it both created a pleasing visual effect similar to a formal pool, and also made a good surface for excess sand to land on and be swept back into the pit at the end of the day. It could even be converted to a pool when a sandpit is no longer required. To complete the effect, I edged it with a small hedge of box - Buxus sempervirens, which acted as a limit to the area, but enhanced the formal effect. I planted young box plants, and some didn't survive the trampling of small excitable feet, but on the whole buxus is very robust and can take a bit of rough treatment, especially once established. 

The second example, shown here, also aimed to achieve a sandpit for the children which was part of the garden and didn't detract from it being a "proper garden", but this time the appearance was to be less formal. What I created was their own sand dune, recalling my own childhood memories of wandering through dunes covered in tall grass, set back from the beach, and finding a clear area to play in, sheltered from the wind and hidden from view making it a secret hiding place. Don't all children love that?

A small bank of earth was built up around the curved edge of the new sandpit, which was the shape of a quarter circle. The straight sides were the patio steps and a path. On the mound I was looking to create the rustling, swaying movement of tall grasses so I planted Stipa arundinacea and Calamagrostis x acutiflora "Overdam", filled in with the smaller Festuca glauca and Carex oshimensis "Evergold". All these provide the tufty, swaying foliage that rustles in the breeze. The Stipa and Calamagrostis should get tall and provide a sense of enclosure, and produce plumes in summer. 

With sand added to the soil on the bank both by me (intentionally, for  effect) and by the children (inadvertently, for the hell of it) once they started playing, the result was a small area which from one side will look like the end of the main border, but which if you are under ten years old will feel like your very own sand dune.

I hope you agree that both these projects prove it is possible to successfully include a play space for youngsters that is not just an added extra but that can be incorporated and merged into the whole, adding interest for young and old alike.

  

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