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Cultivating a "Living" Playground

DATE:January 29, 2021
BY:Valerie VanSweden

When you think of a playground, do you think of the landscape of it? Cynthia Gentry does- she’s the creative force behind Living Playgrounds, LLC. Her work combines the use of biophilic elements with free play and imaginative opportunities for young children.


The hardscape includes 3 distinct areas- for infants, toddlers and preschoolers with structures like a mudpie kitchen, a treehouse, nest swing and playhouse with a green roof. It’s a little bit science, and a whole lot of whimsy.

I design “living playgrounds” or “playable gardens” not because I know the science behind why they are such an ideal place for play (which I do), but because I remember. I remember the awe of exploring a place that changed every day. I remember the stunned amazement I felt at seeing a baby fern curled up tightly like a rollie pollie. I remember imagining a fort in the woods behind our house and then working for days on end with my friends to make the magical vision real. I remember the ever changing beauty of the outdoors and how we never lacked for ideas, plans, wonder, and questions”, Gentry says describing her process.


“These days children do not have the freedom to roam like we did. This makes it all the more important to provide them with playgrounds that are not stripped of every living thing. It is critical that we not expect them to find magic in cold places meticulously constructed of steel, rubber and plastic. We must give our children places teeming with the life and the beauty that only the natural world can provide. Yes, the lessons they can learn there are too numerous to count. The opportunities for growth challenge the benefits of sitting at a desk inside. But, more importantly, the opportunity for pure, free, child-led play - play for play’s sake and all that brings with it - is unsurpassed in the great, natural outdoors.”

 

ServeScape was tapped to fill Gentry’s plan with plants that would inspire wonder and involve children’s senses. A special children’s sensory garden is planted with Lamb’s Ear (Stachys byzantina) for it’s soft texture, Salvia (Salvia guaranitica) for its bright flowers and fragrant leaves, False Indigo (Baptisia australis)or its black seed pods that rattle in the breeze, mint, and a pairing of Artemisia and Black Mondograss to show the surprising contrast of nearly white and nearly black leaves.

 

Lots of sturdy flowering plants will draw in butterflies, bees and hummingbirds. A green roof will be alive with grasses that sway, vines that twine, and succulents that flower. We’re so proud of our partnership with Living Playgrounds, and with all the little ones who will benefit from their early exposure to plants that will influence their whole lives.

 

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