While for some the garden is a passion, for many more people it is an "outdoor living room". It's a place where children play, families eat, friends are entertained and all types of hobbies are pursued.
To have the best outdoor living area, you must first consider your lifestyle, and what you want to do in the garden.
MAKE YOUR GARDEN MORE LIVEABLE BY DOING THE FOLLOWING
- Keep rubbish and compost areas away from bbq and eating areas. (Note: Flies breed in rubbish and
- Plant insect repellent plants in outdoor living areas to help repel insects.
- When you build anything with bolts or nails, make sure no bolts or nails are left protruding.
- Put metal furniture (or play equipment) in shaded places where it won't get too hot and scald the children.
- In hot climates, check out where prevailing winds come from (usually off the water in seaside areas), and leave openings in the garden to catch these winds (ie. Don't build walls or plant hedges where they will stop a cool breeze).
- In cool climates paved areas against a north facing wall will heat up more than other parts of the garden, providing a usable outdoor living area almost all year round.
SOME MORE YOU CAN DO
For a comfortable time in the garden:
- Provide shaded places so you can escape the sun.
- Always wear a hat
- In summer and in warmer climates, always apply suntan lotion.
- Keep out of the sun in the middle of the day.
- Keep your garden clean so you don't attract pests
- Never chance falling asleep in the full sun
- Break some mint or tansy and rub over yourself if insects pose a problem. Tansy repels flies, most mints repel most insects).
- Throw some crushed leaves of mint or tansy around the bbq, or on the table with food to help keep insects away.
- Avoid using poisonous plants.
- Avoid creating slippery surfaces (eg. extra wet areas or an overused extra wet area in a lawn)
- Remove sharp or protruding objects which could be bumped, tripped on or knocked (eg. part of a fence or poorly laid paving)
- Avoid areas which will restrict the cool flow of air.
- Keep still water away from outdoor entertainment areas (it can encourage undesirable pests)
The backyard is your child's most important playground, and a lot of what is learnt about life is learnt playing there.
Building play houses, digging holes, damming streams, etc. are all very positive and worthwhile forms of play; but at the same time, they are activities which are best tempered with common-sense if permanent damage to the backyard is to be avoided. Never discourage children from playing with their environment, but do educate them to understand the implications of what they are doing.
There are four different things kids can find in the backyard:
1. Animals Everything from microscopic protozoa, through snails and spiders to the more complex vertebrates such as birds, lizards, dogs and cats.
2. Plants Again, from the simplest microscopic bacteria, to the mosses, fungi and ferns, shrubs and trees. Play can be centered around complete living plants (eg. growing a garden) or parts of plants (eg. arranging flowers or making a whistle from a piece of bamboo).
3. Earth Stones, rocks, sand and soil, etc. are all commonly used in play.
4. Man made objects Toys and playground equipment are the most obvious man made play objects, however such things as buildings, walls, pavements, fences, etc. have tremendous play potential, and don't cost any extra.
Too often, however, instead of exploiting the play potential of these things, we discourage or even ban play around them.
eg. Brick walls can become rebound walls or fences and walls can be used for murals, or a lean to cubby.
If you want your backyard to be good for the kids to play in, you need to consider the following:
#What are the children's ages?
Toddlers enjoy exploring and learning about their physical surroundings. It is important to include variety in textures, smells and surfacing. Older children interact more with each other, so the backyard needs to be designed to allow them to play with each other rather than with things.
#How much will the yard be used?
Things which can only be used by one child may create conflict. Crowding makes accidents more likely, so design safety becomes more critical. Leave room around playground equipment, and make sandpits big enough for all the kids. Heavily used play areas need stronger construction and more frequent maintenance.
#How much time will be spent in the yard?
A child's attention span is short. Some play activities are only suited to playgrounds which are to be used
only occasionally or for short periods of time. Don't expect a child to use the same swing all day every day, but they might use a sand pit more often.
Plants have too often been underused or misused in playgrounds.
Above all, avoid using poisonous plants in areas where small children play. It has been said that more than one third of commonly grown plants have some toxic properties. Children below the age of 5 or 6 frequently place parts of plants in their mouth.
On the positive side, plants can be many things to a child's play:
They can become play structures (providing mazes, cubbies, climbing etc).
They can modify the environment (providing shelter from sun, wind, rain).
They can define spaces (providing enclosure, protection, separating different parts of the playspace).
Trees should be selected according to both strength of timber (ie. ability to withstand use by children), and disease resistance (eg. A birch which is highly susceptible to internal rots can become unsafe for climbing). Prickly or poisonous plants are also unsuitable.
The following trees are better than most to hang a swing from or climb in:
Quercus (The Oaks)
Eucalyptus (Gum tree)
Fraxinus (The Ashes)
Platanus (Plane Tree)
Pinus (Pines) only problem can be sap running from tree wounds.
Prunus excellent small climbing tree for small children.
Crepe Myrtle (Lagertroemia indica) also good for small children.
Cubby Houses are very important in a child's life. They give children a place of their own, where they can do things which can't be done anywhere else (even in their bedroom). They don't have to be a makeshift eyesore in the garden, but be sure to remember it's the children's building, and they must be the interior decorators. If the parents build, buy or arrange everything inside the cubby it will stop being the kid's cubby and become the parent's cubby. Safety is also an important factor. A well constructed, well finished cubby will not only look good but will reduce the likelihood of injuries that so often occur in poorly constructed cubbies.
Playground equipment must have soft surfaces under them.
The most lethal surface under any play structure is concrete or ashphalt. Hard surfaces are useful in open areas for playing ball games, but should never be used under equipment.
Garden buildings are used for various reasons:
Somewhere to escape the heat or rain.
Somewhere to store bikes, tools or other things either for protection, or just to keep out of eyesight.
Somewhere for privacy away from the house (some parents use gazebos or shed to escape the kids, and some kids use them to escape the parents).
The least expensive type of shed is a prefabricated metal structure with galvanized iron walls and roof. Despite being galvanized, the walls can eventually rust, hence routine maintenance (rustproofing and painting) becomes essential if you want a longer life. Being a cheap construction has its problems. These sheds are poorly insulated and may not be watertight. Unless anchored tightly to the ground they can blow down in a windstorm or cyclone. These problems can be reduced by bolting the shed to a pre poured, concrete slab which is raised above ground level.A window and double doors can provide useful ventilation on very hot days.
Brick or timber sheds are better insulated and if properly constructed will last longer than a tin shed; however these are more expensive alternatives.
Gazebos are roofed buildings designed to command a view. Open on one or more sides, they may be any shape, though traditionally they are octagonal or hexagonal with a hipped or conical roof.
They may be constructed of wood, cast iron, aluminium or cast columns of cement, with wooden shingles or palings being traditional for the roof, although corrugated or flat iron can be used.
A gazebo can provide protection from the direct sun for out outdoor entertaining. There are all types of gazebos on the market today, and your choice is best determined by what you can afford and the style of garden you are trying to create. Remember though, that there may be maintenance involved. Stained timber will need restaining. Painted metal or timber will need repainting periodically.
WHAT TO DO WITH THE FLOOR?
While some garden buildings come with a floor built in, many do not.
It is very important to make the right decision about what to cover the earth floor inside a garden shed, gazebo or cubby with. Irrespective of what you use, the eventual level of the floor inside should be higher than the earth outside to ensure good drainage.
Gravel is the cheapest surface. The best gravel for a floor is one made up of small stones mixed with very fine material. This type of material when evenly spread, raked, rolled and watered will settle to a relatively hard, semi permanent surface.
Large concrete paving slabs laid on sand are relatively easy to install and give a better surface than gravel. Some moisture will come through the floor. This is acceptable for storing tools or machinery but isn't suitable for keeping papers or anything which might go mouldy.
A concrete slab poured over a sand base with a sheet of plastic between the layers will stop water moving up from the ground and so provides a drier atmosphere within the building.
A timber floor raised to allow air movement below will minimize humidity and provide an environment suitable for any use. Timber floors can be expensive to build and may be more readily damaged than concrete or gravel, particularly if heavy tools and equipment are being stored in the shed. The timber may also require periodic preservative treatments.
Barbeques come in all shapes and forms, and are a must in any Australian backyard. No matter what sort of barbeque you have, there are some basic rules to follow in where you put it and how you use it.
Location and Landscaping
*Keep it clear of plants which could catch on fire. (Fire resistant plants include Agapanthus, Coprosma, Ficus, Ligustrum, Pelargonium, Populus (Poplar) and most cacti or succulents).
*Keep away from plants which cause dermatitis. (Barbequing makes you hot, and when you're hot you are more susceptible to skin irritations. See section in this magazine on plants which cause dermatitis).
*Build a wall or fence (preferably fire resistant), nearby to protect the barbeque from wind.
*Locate a table, seat or bench near the barbeque to place uncooked (or cooked) food on.
*Outdoor tables and chairs should be far enough away to avoid any problem with smoke.
*Install lighting so that you can see the cooking at night. Be sure that people standing around the barbeque don't throw shadows over the barbeque.
*Plant insect repellant plants such as mints and tansy near the barbeque.
*Put plants which can be used in cooking near the barbeque (eg. Thyme, Sage, Oregano).
*Gravel is the best surface under a barbeque, because it won't develop ugly permanent stains. Concrete and sandstone are some of the worst materials for staining.
TYPES OF BBQ
1. Wood BBQs
Wood barbeques are appropriate if you live in a treed area, where there is an abundance of firewood.
Normally built from concrete blocks, brick or stone. Always remember the fire needs air around it to burn. The best wood barbeques are ones where the fire on a metal grill is raised above the base, allowing air to move in below the fire, and ash to drop through. The hot plate above the fire should slope slightly backwards to allow fat to drain off to the rear. If it drains to the front, it is dangerous and can stain paving, shoes or anything else in front of the bbq.
If built properly, with a tall chimney, it is relatively smoke free.
Another simple way to build a wood barbeque is to dig a pit in the ground, sit a metal grill in the pit and place a metal plate on top of a few bricks to bridge the hole.
2. Outdoor Ovens
The "Webber" style barbeque has become very popular in recent years. Using heat beads as the fuel and fire lighters to start it up is not exactly cheap, but it is very easy to use and particularly appreciated when you want to cook a roast on a hot Christmas day. The main disadvantages are that you must remember to buy the heat beads and firelighters, and you must be positive that there is sufficient heat being generated before putting the top on. Most people who own this type of barbeque have experienced the occasional late or cold meal, because "someone didn't get the heat beads going hot enough".
3. Gas Barbeques
Gas is clean and reliable. It isn't expensive to buy or use, and is instant heat, unlike heat beads or wood fire. The only real problem arises when you don't check the gas level and run out of gas half way through a barbeque.