Though many children may be budding gardeners, most of the time they prefer to play. The degree to which you plan your garden with this in mind is up to you. The famous Californian garden designer Thomas Church was once told by a young couple that his design for their town garden had to enable their daughter to ride her bicycle.
So Church planned the whole garden around a circular rideway – because he knew that in a limited space riding a bike round and round was more fun that up and down.
The range of garden toys on offer is huge but they don't all sit easily with your flowerbeds and lawn. So a word of advice is look for one toy or play activity that has stand-alone and long-term appeal (like the bike track). And, in the confusion of choice, don't forget that some of the oldest, simplest and cheapest options are sometimes the best. Take the swing.
In my experience children get more hours of pleasure out of a swing than any other garden toy (don't ask me why, I'm a journalist not a child psychologist). Whether on their own or playing with friends, a swing can produce seemingly endless happiness of a kind that always draws them back. This is crucial; the attention span that many toys are able to grab is limited. But if your child is playing on their swing at the start of the holidays they will still be doing so a few days before going back to school.
You can accommodate a swing in almost any garden. If you don't have a large tree you'll need to buy a swing with a metal frame from which it is suspended. We are lucky enough to have a big oak tree with a suitable horizontal branch and I made the simplest, but arguably the most effective type of swing, one with a single rope attached to the centre of a flat board seat.
The single rope means that the swing has less restrictions than the traditional one with two ropes attaching to the sides of the seat. If you live anywhere near the coast you'll be able to get a length of proper rope from a firm of boat chandlers, otherwise go to a builders' merchant.
The seat needs to be a hard wood for durability and make sure the hole you drill is dead centre. Oh, of course, make sure it is very firmly attached to the branch and check it every few months.