At erz we believe passionately in the power of play and our work in this field has taken us from Merrylee’s Urban Jungle (2008), the first natural school play ground in Scotland, to most recently the innovative free play gardens at Arcadia Nursery.

Playing outside has many benefits including improved health, well-being, learning, social skills and convivial play. There is evidence that natural areas for play reduce bullying, stress and accidents. Kids deserve and need brilliant outdoor spaces and this is recognized in Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence. Playgrounds need to be enticing for staff and pupils: places should look and feel good. Landscape architects have a vital role to play.

At Arcadia Nursery we have created a unique space for play and learning where a strong contemporary garden design creates a framework for all the mess and chaos of a good play space.

Our play gardens for Arcadia Nursery were designed in the free play and natural play philosophies – child-centered design that allows children to choose how and where they play in a non-prescriptive environment. Instead of catalogue play equipment we have big boxes to climb on or sit in: the baby’s garden is enclosed by sensory planting and has a tree-hung cradle in a fairy-lit tree; there is play with water, sand, mud, leaves, living willow and fallen trees; a giant timber tree house snakes between mature trees and there is even an arbour/temple in the meadows at the end of the gardens. It is, in fact, a romantic garden, but full of opportunities for fun.

The project has just been shortlisted for a 2015 Landscape Institute Award, which we are really delighted about. Together with the lovely nursery buildings by Malcolm Fraser Architects it also won ‘Best Education Building’ at the Scottish Design Awards and an RIAS Award for 2015.

Article By Felicity Steers