Sabrina Hahn is ABC Radio Perth's gardening expert. She's been giving advice to Perth gardeners for over 10 years.
Creating adventure gardens for healthy kids
Some pretty disturbing figures on the amount of time kids are spending outdoors as opposed to indoors have been making headlines recently. This is a worldwide phenomenon in many first world countries. This is resulting in more childhood obesity; mental health problems and an inability to problem solve and communicate with peers. Children are much more reluctant to take risks or adventure out and feel safe in natural surroundings.
The best place to encourage kids to get outdoors and play can be in your front or backyard. You don’t need fancy plastic play equipment, just a climbing tree and shrubs that allow them to make a little cubby inside the bush where they will create their own land and become their own characters. It’s a hidden world, far, far away from big people where only they can see the magic that will unfold.
I have a list of my top 10 trees and shrubs for kids to do just that – make a kingdom where creatures and characters emerge from their imagination to become playmates and go on an adventure into the unknown. Trees need to have lower branches for climbing, be well spaced with strong branches and no spikey bits. Shrubs need to be full and covered in growth from the base of the shrub to the top. This allows you to prune out a few branches at ground level making a hole just big enough for a small child to get through.
Have available a rubber backed picnic blanket, boxes, some toys and the kids will do the rest. If you are building a cubbyhouse in a tree, let the kids build it with you, get them to draw it up and allow them to style and decorate it. Remember this is their kingdom – not yours.
Great Climbing Trees
- White Mulberry (Morus alba) A fast growing deciduous tree with height of 8m and spread of 9m. The fruit is white so it doesn’t stain kids clothes or the ground. Kids love the fruit.
- Almond Tree (Prunus dulcis) Deciduous tree with well spaced branches and the most beautiful flowers in spring. They grow to around 6-8m tall and 6m wide. Plant All-in-One to get nuts if you are planting a single tree. The black cockatoos love them.
- WA Peppermint (Agonis flexuosa) An ideal evergreen small tree that kids can hide up in and come out smelling like peppermint. Ideal for treehouses.
- Poinciana (Delonix regia) Stunning large canopy deciduous tree with brilliant red flowers in summer. The tree will grow to a height of 8m with a 10m spread. Ideal for treehouses.
- Jacaranda (Jacaranda mimosifolia) It is worth the wait for this wonderful purple flowering tree to get big enough for a climbing tree. Height to 12m and spread of 10m once fully grown.
- Fig (Ficus carica) A perfect climbing tree that produces fruit rarely seen in the shops because of their short shelf life. The tree produces branches close to the ground making it easy to climb. Height and spread depend on variety but keep them pruned to 5m high so that you can reach the fruit. Figs are deciduous.
- Silver Cadjeput (Melaleuca argentea) Slow growing but one of the most beautiful WA paperbarks from up north. Branches start 30cm from the base and are semi-weeping. This evergreen tree has silvery leaves and grows to around 7m high in Perth and a spread of 5m.
- Fremantle Mallee (Eucalyptus foecunda) A small evergreen tree with pretty cream flowers and dense foliage for hiding in. Only gets to 4m in height and very drought tolerant, suitable for coastal sandy soils.
- Cape Chestnut (Calodendrum capense) Little known semi-deciduous tree with beautiful pink flowers in early summer. It grows to around 8-10m with a spread of 7m.
- Persian Witch-hazel (Parrotia persica) Hails form northern Iran and has many branches growing from near ground level. It has the most stunning autumn foliage. Grows to 10- 12m tall in WA and has a spread of 8m.
Favourite Shrubs for ground Cubby Houses
- Hibiscus ‘Apple Blossom’ An old fashioned nana plant, but perfect for kids to make little caves. This hibiscus is evergreen, has large pink flowers for most of the year, soft deep green leaves and grows to 4-5m in height.
- Chaste bush (Vitex agnus) A lovely soft leafed shrub with leaves that are purple underneath and green on top. The small mauve flowers are produced in summer. Grows to 3m high with a spread of 3m.
- Red Orchid Bush (Bauhinia galpinii) Fabulous brick red flowers all summer on a semi-weeping shrub that spread well and also great for screening. Grows to 4m and spreads to 5m. The leaves are like butterfly wings.