Thumbs up for Kew’s new play space

The new children’s play area opened in Kew Gardens last week has been given a resounding endorsement by local children and their parents. So popular is the new attraction that during half term week there were queues stretching across Kew Gardens and some families found they couldn’t get in. We went to see what the fuss is about with 11 year olds Dora Hallac, Holly Kallarackal, Lucas O’Callaghan, his 7 year old brother Max and their parents.

Photographs above: Dora Hallac (left); Dora and Holly; Holly Kallaarackal (right) 

‘Fantastic’

Visitors to Kew Gardens have been peeping through the hoardings for weeks trying to see the children’s play area which was taking shape. Now they have and it’s “fantastic” says Laker, mother of seven year old Max and eleven year old Lucas. “It’s gorgeous” says Susie, mother of 11 year old Dora; “clever that they’ve opened it when all the flowers are in bloom” says Krissy, mother of eleven year old Holly.

The beauty of the setting is not lost on the children either. The girls especially noted the attractiveness of the surroundings. For city dwellers used to the concrete and grass of the municipal playground, with a few swings and a roundabout if you’re lucky, the design of the play area, in a natural setting the size of 40 tennis courts, with lots of curves and windy paths leading around spectacular displays of flowers and more than 100 mature trees, is a huge improvement on your average play area and the bright colours of the plastic play equipment only add to its attractiveness.

Photographs above: Max; Holly, Max & Lucas; Lucas & Max

Of course you have to pay to enter Kew Gardens to use it (but you don’t pay extra to use the Children’s Garden). Five hundred people are allowed in at any one time; you’re given a wrist band and told you have 90 minutes. To me, when we went at 4.30 on a school day, it felt quite crowded, but not it seems to city kids. That didn’t trouble them at all, in fact they liked the busy buzz of it all. The sand pit and slides were “fun” said Dora, “it’s much bigger than the one which was here before. It’s more interactive; a good concept”. The concept is that there are four distinct areas – the Earth garden, the Air garden, the Sun garden and the Water garden, encouraging children to think about what plants need to survive. “The water part was really interactive” said Holly and the beehive was “cool … “it’s a nice place to hang out”.

Photographs above: Parents Laker, Krissy & Susie; Holly in the climbing frame; Holly with Lucas 

The Children’s Garden is designed for two to twelve year olds and both Max at seven and Lucas at 11 both found something to challenge them. Max enjoyed the space to explore and the balls to jump on; Lucas liked getting to grips with the obstacle course and the tree house and noted the safety design, that if you fell off things there was always something soft to land on. The girls were a bit disappointed the trampolines were so small, but were prepared to concede at at about two foot in diameter, the circles cut into the mock grass were perfect for little children.

There are rocks to climb on, water to splash in and channel and dam, ropes to climb up, a treetop walk around a mature oak tree, tunnels, hammocks and periscopes. The girls were a bit surprised when the hammock flipped over and dumped them in the wood chippings. Laker said she loved that the Royal Botannical Gardens doesn’t seem worried that children will damage all the beautiful plants. She also liked the little paths leading off in different directions and the areas of shade, with plenty of places to sit comfortably.

We did think it would be quite easy to lose a child in the play garden, but the whole area is securely fenced off, with two gates, each with a member of staff not letting any child in or out on their own, even to nip to the toilet. Anyone lost is taken to the staff on the gate to be reunited with their accompanying adult. Laker thought the degree of independence it afforded her seven year old was perfect. In all the Children’s Garden got a big thumbs up from Dora, Holly, Lucas, Max, Laker, Krissy and Susie.