|Our plan for our dream family garden with Activity Toys Direct.|
But to our family, our garden is for SO much than that. It is where our kids grow. Ask a child who is in charge at home and they'll likely say mum or dad; ask a child who is in charge at school and they'll say the teachers are; but ask a child who is in charge in the garden and you'll see that glint in their eye, a smile creep over their face, their mind fill with happy memories and you'll realise that they are...
In the garden, no-one else directs them what they can and can't do - they are free to play. They are free to imagine, they can be whoever they want to be, nothing can limit them or stop them.
Whilst home-schooling we have noticed that you just can't force creativity to come. On so many occasions when the kids were working on a story or a piece of creative writing and just had a block whilst sat at their desks, we would take a clipboard and paper and head outside...
In the garden, the ideas flow, their imaginations show, the creativity grows and then the 'chore' of doing their piece of writing becomes something they want to do and their excitement builds when they realise that their minds are free. They have space. Space to run around. Space to think. Space to explore. Space to allow ideas to come.
So our garden truly is a huge part of our family's life. It's where bonds are built and strengthened when mum or dad join in a ball game. It's where siblings collaborate rather than squabble. It's where memories are made and time is shared.
A couple of years ago we had some building work done on the house, and whilst the house improved, the garden was basically ruined. It became so full of builder's rubble, broken glass and all the grass turned to mud and so effectively because unusable. We couldn't bear to be without use of the garden, so we did get it returfed and the patio re-built but we were left with a blank canvas. The magic had gone. Our special garden with borders, and trees, with flowers for the bees - all of it was gone.
We have gradually tried to put in a few special things like a little playhouse, a teeny-tiny apple tree, and even teenier fig tree and a little vegetable bed, but essentially it remains so plain compared to all the things that were there to discover before.
So I took a look on Activity Toys Direct for inspiration. And here are our ideas for our dream garden...I say 'our' dream garden rather than 'my' dream garden because I think all too often adults make the buying choices about toys without asking for input from the children who will be using the toys the most. So we got the children to look on the Activity Toys Direct website to see what they thought.
Interestingly, there was one item that appealed to every member of the family. We each kept our ideas quiet from each other so that we didn't influence each others decision and this item came out as a firm favourite on everyone's wish list.
It would make a real centrepiece in the garden and would be usable for most of the year. It lends itself to hours of fun and imaginative play. And it is at the perfect price point for the 'toys' part of this challenge. It is also made with FSC certified wood, which is important to us all as it is something the kids have been learning about.
It is the TP Toys Forest Pirate Galleon 2 priced at £437.99.
Their second most wanted item was a water slide and this TP Toys The Original Aqua Slide, priced at only £26.95 could also go onto their wishlist and still fall within the £500 imaginary makeover budget and is perfect for water play in the summer.
We really wanted the item/s we chose to be suitable for all three of our children and so the Pirate Galleon is absolutely perfect for a wide age range. We also didn't want to pick an item that only had a single use - we wanted it to be open to lots and lots of imaginary play. Again, the Pirate Galleon looks ready for a whole host of adventures.
Having said that, because of J's ASD, he can find too-much open-ended choice overwhelming, so having a theme that can be used as a focal point - i.e. pirates - can actually help him rather than having a general play centre without any particular focus.
And in case you needed any more convincing as to why this would be the absolute PERFECT choice for our family, here is a small selection of photos which show just how much all three of our children have enjoyed dressing up as pirates over the years! T even wore a 'Pirate Pong' hat on her very first day in the world. Even though they are all older now, they still love to dress up as pirates and D was making his own pirate hat from cardboard just a few days ago.
But what about the rest of the garden, what plants and features would I chose to complement our wonderful Pirate Galleon centrepiece? Well what do all pirates go in search of? Treasure of course!
This is where I would chose plants that are real treasures to me. I always love finding fruit and vegetables growing in the garden and we already have our little apple tree and fig tree that bear treasure in Autumn. We have some red strawberry treasures in our existing veggie bed. So what else?
Well I have always dreamed of having a Medlar tree in my garden. The origins of the Medlar tree are rooted in Persia (just like mine as my mum was from Persia), and the tree bears unusual looking fruit that makes the most wonderful tasting Medlar jelly. Not many people seem to know about the Medlar tree making it a real hidden gem.
Honesty is my favourite plant from my childhood - I remember finding the magical oval discs that shimmer and glimmer. What better treasure to find than that!
Echinops, or the globe thistle, produces these perfectly spherical heads that have a purple hint to them. See these at their best when their spikes look perfect before the tiny purple flowers open and they really do look like magical treasures from a strange land.
Then I would plant oodles of lavender and herbs. Lavender has so many uses - we make scented bags for the wardrobes with it, use it for soap-making and it can even be used in cookery! With all that lavender the bees and butterflies would be keen to visit and they are another treasure in themselves to look at. And herbs are just amazing for their scent and how they can be used in all sorts of dishes. Having our very own little brilliant chef in the family means that we can never have too many herbs.
And finally a living willow 'cave'. So when our Pirate Galleon gets shipwrecked on some far off shores, we can find a cave to shelter in.
I checked the prices for this selection of plants and it would fall within the £250 budget for the plant element of the challenge - A living willow tepee or tunnel can be purchased for around £50, a medlar tree for £30, and the other items are a lower cost than these and all fall within budget in total.
I have a feeling that the kids are very excited about the idea of having the garden as a space for playing pirates and finding treasure! We found they had each been drawing pirate ships inspired by the pirate galleon they had seen on the Activity Toys Direct website.
This blog post is an entry into the Tots100/Activity Toys Direct garden makeover competition. Find more information here.