I'm not anti spending money - especially on life's essentials like bunting - but I'll admit I'm not a fan of waste - or paying over the odds. I didn't realise this was such a strong family trait until a visitor one day exited my downstairs loo with the words "I see you've watered down the hand soap… typical Isaac!"*
So when I read the Lloyds Bank Insurance Britain at Home Report that said parents with children under 18 spend £800 a year on their garden I thought… really? Apparently this is a lot to do with buying play equipment to lure kids outside and away from screens.
Personally I think you can add an awful lot of interest and fun to a garden without spending much money at all - and that's the route the children and I usually take. However, the report did get me thinking about the pieces of equipment I have spent money on over the years and whether I think it's a good investment. In case anyone is considering doing just this, I thought I'd give you a run down of the ones I have and how I rate them:
Trampoline - Cost £200 (cost to back of digging hole… unspecified)
This is still the most popular piece of play equipment in the garden. Ours is a 10ft one bought about eight years ago. You could spend more adding enclosures and ladders but ours is sunk in the ground so I've never felt the need. I did explain some years ago how to do this and there is even a film or two to accompany it (I apologise now for the shorts…) but not everyone will find their soil makes this very easy. For this reason (and because it involves a lot less digging) I often specify in-ground trampolines in my garden designs but this is a lot pricier (about £800 for a similar size).
Best for: Active play, wowing visitors
Value for Money: 9/10
Playhouse - Cost £250 - plus around £50 on additional materials like brushwood roofing and porch floor
Again ours is now eight years old so has held up well. It was off-the-shelf from our local B&Q but you can buy similar wooden playhouses in many places. I would always recommend some sort of den like this in the garden - just make sure it's at least 6ft x 6ft and as tall as possible so the children can use it for longer - it's also important it's waterproof so they can bring out various toys or props to live in it. Ours may look like a pretty cottage, but it morphs into anything when the kids' imaginations take hold - recently for example it has been both a spy headquarters and a children's care home (thank you Tracy Beaker).
Best for: Imaginative play, inclement weather
Value for money: 8/10
Sandpit - Cost of materials c. £450
This wasn't cheap but that's nostalgia for you. I spent every summer holiday as a child in a seaside cottage which had the most spectacular sandpit. For me no off-the-shelf version offered enough scope - either in size or depth. Basically, if you couldn't bury a sibling with only their head showing then in my book it wasn't a sandpit. So we built this one with oak sleeper surround and a good 75cm depth. Although it was costly, the children do use this throughout the year. It's easy to forget that sandcastles can be built in January as well as July.
Best for: Building, digging and burying
Value for money: 4/10
Goalposts - Cost £50 (plus paint!)
Even though my children rarely play football my husband insisted at least one goal was essential. I put up with this but only after I painstakingly painted the posts first so they would at least look a little less garish and also because they are so light they can be moved around regularly so the lawn doesn't suffer. I will also admit it has encouraged a few more ball games - although the goalposts are more regularly just tipped over by the children to trap each other in the net.
Best for: Footballers, traps
Value for money: 6/10
Swings - Cost… a lot (because they were a present for my 40th and even have a gin and tonic shelf) but really you don't need to spend more than £100-200
To be honest, these don't get used as much as they should because the frame isn't tall so doesn't swing the kids particularly high. If I was buying just with kids in mind I might go for something else but, hey, they're my swings… so there!
Best for: sitting, swinging, (and sipping gin and tonics)
Value for money: 3/10 (but probably nearer 7/10 if you go for a cheaper version)
Slide - Cost £100
We had a tiny toddler slide years ago that my youngest son loved. He used to carry it around the garden and slide anywhere he could - the sandpit, paddling pool, onto the trampoline. Sadly, it gave up the ghost some time ago and ever since then Archie has spoken wistfully of 'my sliding days'. So, last week, I bit the bullet and bought a large plastic slide. It took about an hour to construct and only when my husband was on the final page did he say "oh - it apparently needs to be concreted into the ground". We obviously didn't do this - which may have been a mistake as Archie has so far used it to slide into the sandpit, onto the trampoline… and he's now suggesting we get the paddling pool out.
Best for: Archie
Value for money: difficult to say given it still has the 'novelty factor' but I'm guessing 7/10
Paddling pool - Cost £20
We have to replace our paddling pool every 2-3 years (sometimes due to slide-related incidents…) but I wouldn't be without one on a hot day. Except for the shrieking. There is a lot of shrieking.
Best for: hot sunny days
Value for money: 9/10
Pop up tent - Cost approx. £30-£50
These are great (except when you have to pop them down again). They can be a mobile den, a source of shade from the sun in the day or a place to camp out at night. Ours has withstood an awful lot of rough and tumble (although it does now have a rip down one side so large the boys can leap through it.
Best for: adventures, dens
Value for money: 8/10
*In my defence this is the only way one can ensure you get the last bits out of the bottle - I promise you.