The Summer Play Garden

Last year I shared my efforts to transform my my large-but-boring back yard into a wonderful space that children and adults would both enjoy.  This spring I opened my yard to families when I started my outdoor parent-child Play Garden classes.  And what fun it’s been!  I’d love to share some photos and things I’ve learned about what makes a space truly inviting.

My first realization is that children and adults want very different things from an outdoor space.  Children want to  explore what their bodies can do (digging, sliding, swinging, climbing, spinning), explore different textures (sand, water, gravel, dirt, grass, trees, stones), and as they get older, go deeply into imaginative play.  Adults want comfort and beauty, with space to relax that is not far from the children.

When I opened my Play Garden doors, I discovered that I was better prepared for the children than I was for adults.  I needed more comfortable seating, and LOTS more shade.  One of my Play Garden families generously offered to make me a pergola, and that along with shade sails, cantilevered umbrellas, and regular sprinkler play have helped to keep everyone comfortable.  The hundreds of summer perennials that I started from seed last year are now in full bloom, providing the beauty.  Here is a view of the yard from my back deck:



The Sand Pit

The heart of the Play Garden is the sand pit, which is divided into a part for sand and a part with pea gravel, with a small bridge between.  It’s surrounded by stumps, and has

a fire pit with a nice broad ledge for adults to sit and children to set up their play items.  It is right next to the pergola, so parents can sit and watch their children play.  It has good shade in the morning, but by midday it is in full sun, so I am experimenting with shade sails overhead.



The Play House

In order to promote imaginative play, I got an old, decrepit play house for free off Craig’s List, fixed it up.  A table and chairs next to it, complete with pewter plates and cups, and a shade sail overhead have made this a comfortable and engaging place to play.


Eating Outside

If the sand pit is the heart of the play yard, then the meal is the heart of our class.  Watermelon, oat bars or bitty buns we’ve baked, and cool herbal tea make a refreshing break.  Cantilevered umbrellas provide some much-needed shade.


The Play Hill

The other big play area is the the play hill with its two slides built i

n, a tunnel running through, and boulders to clamber.  This is such a lovely “natural Play

scape,” blending play equipment and nature.  I’ve covered it with child-friendly plants like lamb’s ears, nasturtium and clover, and planted flowers all around.

The Dry Creek

The yard is bisected by a dry creek which is fully functional–we put it in to deal with drainage issues in our yard.  There are three ways across: a flagstone bridge (big enough to drive the mower across), a stepping stone path, and a log bridge.  We have found toads and the occasional garden snake in the creek.



  1. What a thoughtful and beautiful space you have made! It seems to have all the right things. Best wishes with your play garden!

    • Thanks, Brandy! It has truly been a labor of love (with an emphasis on the “labor” part at the moment). And of course I always have plans for things to improve. I want to make a mud kitchen! More edible landscaping! And have vines growing over every fence! Grapes over the pergola! More shade over the sand pit! I’ve never lived anywhere that felt so much like a permanent home, and it is exciting to be able to do projects that will take several years to come to fruition–for example, this spring I planted a bed of asparagus, which takes up to 3 years for the first harvest. It’s slow motion excitement.

  2. This is completely magical!

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