Water holds a special fascination for children and the appeal of splashing ponds full of gulping frogs or darting fish exert a lure on the young that is hard for them to ignore – but sadly, sometimes the attraction can be a fatal one. Over 100 kids have drowned in the last 10 years or so – more than three-quarters of them dying in ponds in other people’s gardens. The under-fives are particularly at risk, though children of any age can get into trouble around water features – and it takes only a few moments for a child to drown.
To avoid the risk, many parents, friends and relatives choose not to have a pond in the first place – or turn their existing one into a sandpit until the children get older – but this inevitably means that kids miss out on some of the fun of childhood. It’s an individual decision for every parent or guardian to make, of course, but it can be possible to incorporate child friendly water features into the kids’ garden.
Safety has to be the watch-word and this extends to everything about the water feature, from the depth of water, through to the pumps, lights and electrical systems associated with it. Much of how you make a feature safe depends on the type you opt to install and the age of the children concerned, but in general, the more you can physically prevent your offspring from getting to the water – at least without your supervision – the safer he or she will be.
Fencing your pond to stop children getting to it can be one solution, but it’s neither perfect, nor fool-proof, since a budding naturalist can show remarkable determination and resourcefulness in pursuit of frogspawn or newts – along with an astonishing burst of speed!
Alternatively, purpose-made rigid mesh can be fitted, which is more secure, but needs to be installed properly; a “saggy” grid can pose an unseen danger, since children can drown in a surprisingly shallow depth of water.
While these sorts of barriers can let the whole family enjoy a traditional pond without too much worry, if you’re looking for even more safe forms of water features, there are others to consider which offer the sight and sound of moving water, with very much less of the risk.
Bubble fountains are a great – and very safe – way to enjoy water in kids’ garden. They consist of a small reservoir, often about the size of a large bucket, equipped with a small pond pump, with a strong mesh cover. The whole thing gets buried in position, with the mesh top at ground level. A length of pipe leads from the pump, running through the mesh and projecting a short distance above it. Fill up the reservoir, place a collection of interesting smooth stones over and around the mesh, up to the level of the pipe’s spout and then switch on – water splashes gently over the stones, slowly cascading back to the reservoir underneath for reuse.
Although you can make one yourself fairly easily, the purpose-built units available from garden centres and the like are often a better bet, since they’re equipped with the right sized pump for the size of the reservoir and the mesh lids are designed to fit securely too. There are so many on offer – often as kits complete with smooth, river-washed pebbles – that there is sure to be something to suit.
Ball fountains and small water walls are variations on the same theme and also offer most of the advantages of traditional ponds and water features, without the same danger.
Small, self-contained water features are another possibility to consider, needing little in the way of installation beyond deciding where you want to put it, making sure it’s level, filling it up and switching it on.
There are all sorts of designs to choose from, including the likes of small cascade sets made up of terracotta pots, Japanese bamboo “Kalehi” – which splash water onto a flat stone – and small lion’s head troughs for wall mounting. For use around children, the safest kinds are the ones that have only a very little depth of water and where the pump reservoir is internal and hidden away from small people – however inquisitive!
Many self-contained water features and bubble fountains now come with solar power, so although you won’t have the splash at night, you don’t have to worry about having to have electricity cables, which can be a bit of a concern around kids.
Children and water are an irresistible combination, but sadly, it can sometimes turn out to be a fatal one. However, it needn’t be and even if you feel that a water feature isn’t appropriate for your youngster now, the time may come – and when it does, knowing what to look for should keep everybody happy.