Friday, 24 March 2017

A simple garden project for a fun children's play feature - build a boardwalk!

Garden boardwalk for Children at Picton Castle
A boardwalk is great fun for small children
You can give your children an unusual and fun feature to use when playing in the garden by building a boardwalk. It's fun to play on, easy to build and will give your garden a real sense of adventure. You can make it whatever size suits your space, and it doesn't have to cost a lot either. Now is the perfect time to add this fantastic home made play area to your garden. 

 
The picture above was taken at Picton Castle in Pembrokeshire, where they have an amazing boardwalk which winds for hundreds of metres through wooded areas, across open grass, and through their Jungle Garden. It provides children with a really fun route around a large area, across streams edged with large leafed Gunneras to provide the jungle atmosphere, and culminates with a living willow tunnel and a deck next to the playground area. This was the inspiration for my much smaller and simpler boardwalk, which you can also recreate in your garden.
 
As you would expect given the amount of use it receives, the boardwalk at Picton is heavy duty, using substantial rough sawn oak planks. These rest on cross pieces, which are themselves supported by a wooden post on each side driven into the ground. each pair of posts has two cross pieces, one on each side, so that two planks can each rest butting up to each other between the posts, secured to the cross pieces.
 
So that's the no expense spared, high tech version! Here is my DIY downscaled version!

Boardwalk under the trees
Woodland boardwalk
I used logs sawn from a tree that had to be cut down. They need to be wide enough for the ends of two planks to both fit securely on top, and long enough to go deep enough into the ground to stay securely fixed and not wobble or topple over. Exactly how big and how deep will depend on how big your children are, or whether you intend to have a go on it yourself! Mine does take my own weight quite comfortably, and it's built with standard planks (deck boards proving, perhaps surprisingly, not quite strong enough.) The logs are submerged to about 12-18 inches. If you can build it to take your own weight, then small children will certainly be safe.  
 
Work out what planks you are using and space the logs accordingly, then dig out a hole, drop the logs down and then pack the soil back around them and tread it down firmly, as if planting a tree, until they are cannot be easily wobbled. Then  simply nail the ends of your planks into the top of the logs. No need for cross pieces as long as the space between each log is not too big. If they are too far apart, the planks will bend more and potentially break, but cut them shorter and keep the distance they have to span less, and they will do the job.
 
You can add variety by cutting the ends of planks at different angles, so they will still fit on top of the logs whilst turning corners. I've stuck with only very slight angles, just to avoid the boardwalk being dead straight, and no alterations were needed. You can also change levels to make the boards go slightly up and down a slope. This is possible just using different height logs. I put in a step at one end, with one plank end resting on a small piece of wood nailed to a log halfway down. This just makes it more of an obstacle course than just a straightforward walk, and also serves to slow down anyone who might otherwise run a bit too fast towards the end.
Childrens boardwalk in woodland garden with ferns
Children love walking on boards between ferns
You can place your boardwalk anywhere, but my choice was under the trees at the bottom of the garden. It actually creates a round trip, linking two separate sets of stepping stones across the stream, enabling the children to take a circular route around this furthest part of the garden, behind the large trees on the far side of the stream. 
 
A semi-woodland setting is ideal (unless you have a jungle like Picton Castle of course) as it can be surrounded with ferns, bluebells, foxgloves and anemone blanda. This creates a lovely atmosphere as they grow up around the boards through spring and summer, giving children the opportunity to walk along the boards between them.
 
Now is the ideal time to build a boardwalk this way, while the ground is still nice and soft, making digging deep enough to get the logs well down a bit easier. So get out there this weekend and have a go, and your kids can enjoy their new garden adventure this Easter! And if you've already built something equally inspired, please use the comments box below to tell me about it, I'd love to hear what you've created.  

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