With warmer weather comes more time outside, which in turn means ensuring your outdoor living spaces are totally kid-proof – nothing ruins summer fun like a trip to the hospital. Matt Leacy, landscaping extraordinaire from Landart Landscapes, shares his tips for kid-proofing your outdoor spaces.
With September school holidays underway and the countdown to summer well and truly on, now is the perfect time to think about kid-proofing your outdoor spaces. But kid-proofing doesn’t mean ugly – Matt Leacy has some hot tips for creating safe and engaging outdoor spaces that not only look great, but that your kids can enjoy throughout the holidays and beyond.
“You don’t need to compromise your 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 you an arm and a leg,” says Matt.
1. Soften your surfaces
“If you have kids 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,” says Matt. “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.”
You can soften your outdoor space and keep it looking great with a variety of different plants, too – Matt says Wooly Bush (Adenanthos) is the softest, most beautiful plant to touch, despite its spikey appearance, but which plant you choose really depends on your outdoor aesthetic.
“For groundcovers, I recommend Dymondia, Zoysia and Dichondra, as these can be walked over without being destroyed,” Matt says. “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.”
Be sure to avoid any potentially toxic or prickly plants that kids might come into contact with, Matt says, so steer clear of varieties like cactuses, Oleander (as a general rule, anything with white sap) hydrangeas, chillies, azaleas, agave, and some succulents – to name a few.
“And if you’re unsure, consult your local garden centre or a landscape designer,” Matt says.
And, if you have lots of slippery surfaces like patios, walkways and swimming pool decks, you might consider adding some non-skid, non-slip surfaces such as pavers or rubber flooring to reduce the risks of falls.
2. Design and zone your landscape to attract kids to safe areas
The easiest way to ensure safety when your kids use your outdoor space 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,” says Matt.
Think about what your kids love to do and then introduce elements accordingly – if they love to draw, install a little wall or fence for them to use as a chalk board, while large format pavers can also double as hop scotch squares and on-ground chalk boards.
Swing sets, rope swings, in-built trampolines, sandpit areas and mounted and stationed cubby houses are other fun, kid-friendly options.
“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,” says Matt. “They 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 unsure of what lies beneath the surface and how to execute the process correctly.”
If you’re open to using synthetic grass in a kids’ zone, Matt says a putt putt green can also a fun option to help keep the kids occupied and develop their hand-eye coordination. Mini-golf can be done in a group or individually, so it’s perfect no matter how many children you have.
For comfort, Matt suggests adding some comfy beanbags, pillows and camping chairs to the kids’ zone, so your children will have little reason to spend time anywhere else.
When choosing where your kids’ zone will be, there are several factors to consider.
“Think about what area will work best in terms of preserving your existing outdoor aesthetic,” says Matt, “as well as where you’ll be able to easily 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.
“And if you don’t have 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,” says Matt.
3. Pool safety essentials
“Every Australian state and territory has jurisdiction-specific pool fencing laws aimed at reducing risks associated with pool drownings,” says Matt. “All pools need to be fenced in compliance with local building codes and registered with local council.”
In addition to fence heights, there are also minimum requirements pertaining to the height and size of security latches, gaps and horizontal pales, so be sure to contact your local council if you’re unsure about what requirements apply to you.
“When installing a pool fence, it’s also worth taking the time to properly consider the design of the fence and how it will affect the existing space – both from a practical and aesthetic perspective,” says Matt. “An ugly pool fence can significantly degrade the look, feel and value of an outdoor space – so it’s advisable to engage a professional pool and landscape designer to ensure you get the choice and process right.”
A professional designer will help to marry compliance and design, matching the need for safety with the need for a fence that enhances your overall outdoor space, says Matt.
“They’ll consider things like the ideal material for the fence, 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.” Matt concludes.