GARDENING / Generation games: Jan Dalley suggests some ploys to make sure your well-loved garden withstands the battering of tiny feet

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The Independent Culture
DOES your garden make you feel miserable? By the end of the summer holidays, those of us with small, boisterous children and medium-sized gardening ambitions are often left looking out over a scruffy, battered patch. Whatever happened to that earnestly created calm green haven with its tasteful colours and carefully chosen shrubs?

Unless you have a garden large enough to take the punishment, lawns that invariably resemble a mud-bath in winter become brown and scuffed in summer under the barrage of tiny feet; herbaceous plants can lose a whole year's growth at a single swipe of a football; terracotta pots shatter under the impact of even the smallest tricycle.

The only solution is to design your way out of trouble, remembering two basic rules. The first is to garden 'tall and flat', planting things that will climb up walls, fences, arches and supports and also grow low along the ground. Plants 2ft-4ft high, just the height of the herbaceous classics, are the most vulnerable to child damage.

With the climbers, be bold and varied: self-adhesive plants such as climbing hydrangea save a lot of work, and ivies are wonderful for going up, over and along. If you think they are dull and without variety, Jane Fearnley-Whittingstall's Ivies (Chatto & Windus pounds 25) will soon change your mind.

The second rule is to divide the space. The notion of a garden with 'rooms', as created by Vita Sackville-West at Sissinghurst, may seem an odd one to apply to modest suburban plots - but it can make them seem bigger. Every corner can be used, and can have its own personality; children love a garden with things to hide behind and nooks and crannies to make their own. The following are three basic blueprints, each modelled on a garden I know to be a success with both adults and children.

Garden A. The easiest option for a standard garden with a lawn in the middle and beds running down the sides. About halfway down, curve one of the side-beds out dramatically to cut the garden almost in half. Leave a 'doorway' of lawn or path to lead the eye through to the other side. Plant shrubs that will be large, well-shaped and freestanding: a variegated weigela, for instance, with lower shrubs around it.

Or make your 'barrier' out of a series of arches, or a sturdy trellis, covered in creepers. But build it high - at least 6ft.

Behind it you can put a shed, climbing frame, sandpit, whatever you like, out of sight. In front of the barrier you do grown-up gardening; behind it is children's territory. Cultivate climbers on supports there, but let the grass grow rough. Let it be their bit.

Garden B. A more dramatic division. Slap a high barrier (8ft tall) of very heavy trellis right across your garden. If you want to give the family the lion's share of the space, put the divider close to the house - leaving only a paved area big enough for a table and chairs and as many beautiful large pots as you can muster. Lavish your attention on these, and on having magnificent climbing plants tumbling over your divider. Make an arched or square door in your 'wall', and on the far side do whatever the family wants. Rough grass with an apple tree or two. A big shed for playing when it is wet. A fishpond. A basketball net on a post. This space is for pleasure, not beauty.

A word about barriers. They should not be brick or solid wooden slats because you want to let through light and air and create the sensation of space beyond. But they must be strong, and the sturdier they are the more they cost. The pretty but flimsy arches and pergolas advertised in gardening catalogues cannot (as I know to my cost) withstand an average six-year-old being Tarzan - nor are they meant to. So this is a job for your friendly local carpenter and not DIY, unless you are very good at it.

Garden C. Ideal for city gardens. Be really bold, and pave the whole lot over. Edge it round with brick-edged beds raised 3ft off the ground to hold climbers and shrubs. If there is a tree, give it a high circular brick surround; if there is not, plant a magnolia or something similar somewhere surprising - like right in the middle. Once again, divide the space with a barrier that cuts halfway across - and this time you might choose to have 'your' space at the end away from the house. Far from looking like a school playground, this kind of paved garden can feel like a luscious deep green well, enclosed and private. It is a dramatic option, and it is far from cheap - but just think of never having to mow the lawn ever again.-