Trees - A movable forest
In this second blog on forgotten spaces we explore the concept of a movable forest and how this small action can soften a landscape and therefore increase children’s desire to be outside. In many environments where I often work, the outdoor landscape is very barren due to increasing levels of vandalism. In these locations it can be hard for staff to sustain the motivation to replace and fix damaged items.
This was very soon followed by the desire to re-imagine a space created by children that moved beyond the climbing frame to 'invite nature in' on a daily basis. To investigate how children could create a nature-based haven as a part of their daily routine. The movable forest was born...
- the large, strong, stable lockable casters that were underneath the movable platform
- the pots were bolted to the base
- the base was wide to make it stable
- the trees had to be a species that could be containerised
- the care of the tree had to be built into the ritual and routines of the day as it would be dependant on humans for water and ultimately food.
Why a forest and not just a plant pot with flowers?
Children often mention trees as something they really like to have in the places where they play (Jansson et al., 2016; Laaksoharju et al., 2017). Some children even say they love trees (Argent et al. 2017) as they blur the division of inanimate and animate.
Trees are the architectural masters in a landscape, the more mature the better. They provide so many things to a barren playground:
- A framework for building dens and forts
- A thing to sit beside and read a book
- Shade to play under
- Branches to climb up and lie upon (when they are mature)
- A structure to rest and settle against
- Loose parts for playing with
- They absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen so helping air quality and therefore increasing carbon storage
The tree connects to children as something of value. In research by Laaksoharju and colleagues they explored the place of trees in the identity of the space. Out of 952 photographs taken by the children, 258 depicted interactions with trees and over 50 percent of the children’s drawings featured trees. When people were included in the drawings, they were depicted resting or playing beside a tree, sleeping in a hammock, or climbing the tree (Laaksoharju et al., 2017).
My wonderful friend Professor Sue Houglum from the USA, embraced the concept of static containerised trees to transform a rooftop car park to a place for designed for nature-based play (Warden 2015). Trees in large containers gave children and all those looking down on the car park, a visual delight as their appearance changed over the seasons.
In summary we need trees for many reasons, there are always challenges to the planting and creation of a forest. In challenging circumstances, we can do a great deal with containers and with imagination, we can work with children to find solutions. Suspended trees, trees in pots and young slow growing trees in small spaces all offer benefits to the environment.