I believe it’s important for kids—and even adults—to get out into the great outdoors now and again. Climb a tree, roll in the mud, get dirty and simply get creative with what nature has to offer. So ever since the HortPark Nature Playgarden was unveiled back in March, I’ve been wanting to take Elliott there. I’m not the biggest fan of baking in the sun, but for the greater good — a.k.a. my son’s happiness and well-being — I’ll gladly make the sacrifice. Nature is the best teacher, after all.
A “Magical” Garden
We finally picked a day and went first thing in the morning to get there ahead of the afternoon sun. The weather gods rewarded us with a cloudy yet not gloomy morning. The Nature Playgarden is about a seven-minute walk into HortPark with lots of activities along the way. It was hard to not get distracted. I promised Elliott that we’d check it all out later, but first we had to find the “magical” garden… Even the word is “magical” — he gets instantly excited when he hears it.
And the HortPark Nature Playgarden did not disappoint. It indeed turned out to be a magical place.
For one thing, it isn’t overwhelmingly huge or hard to navigate. The 0.35-hectare area is divided into nine play zones. Five-year-old Elliott had no problem getting around on his own without getting lost. Of course, adult supervision is still necessary, given that the spaces is designed for preschoolers aged three to six years.
Building Castles in the Sand
Once we arrived, Elliott was instantly attracted to The Building Huts. It features three teepees in two areas, one filled with sand and the other with gravel. Children are free to let their imaginations run wild while they ‘play house’.
The open-sided teepees offer open-ended play where kids can build upon them with natural materials such as twigs, timber cookies and big dried palm fronds. They’ll even find all kinds of fun tools hanging on the Tool Board to aid in their creativity.
One of Elliott’s favourite pastimes lately is to fake cook lots of fake food for me to fake eat. So he was quick to pick out some pots and pans before getting to work. It was very satisfying to see how he got creative with whatever he got his hands on. Log benches became stove tops and he chose a teepee to be his little house. He cooked up a feast and invited me to his teepee for some…sand!
Going with the Flow
After he was done playing house, Elliott wandered over to The Stream. Here, little beavers can construct dams to manipulate water flow through a series of channels carved from logs. They can also experiment to see if objects float or sink. While it’s definitely not your average water play area, this was easily Elliott’s favourite spot in the Nature Playgarden. He loves to play with water (which explains why our water bills are always so high!) and had fun tracing the water flowing through the logs.
Next to this is The Kitchen, where more pretend cooking play can be had. Boxes of dried fruits, seeds and leaves act as ingredients. Children can also take little hikes at the surrounding Treasure Trail. Colourful wooden signs along the Fruity Trail and Forest Trail lead them to discover various fruit trees and other plants.
Getting in Tune with Nature
Another area Elliott loved was The Singing Seeds. As children move through a series of hanging bamboo poles of assorted sizes, they chime at different pitches. This musical play area certainly proves that music exists in nature, and we all know that music is soul food!
There are also hollow musical see-saws and wheels filled with several types of seeds. Elliott spent some time rocking and spinning them and was enchanted by the sounds they make — no need for expensive percussion instruments!
He continued on to explore The Magical Woods, which offers a series of tunnels made out of wood. Apparently, they are created using various species of Dillenia plants, and form spaces that children can use how they wish. Some may seek refuge in a ‘secret hideout’, while others might play hide-and-seek with friends. Look out for birds and insects feeding on the fruit and pollinating the flowers!
Stepping Stones to More Adventures
A favourite with kids bursting with energy is The Big Fig Adventure, a log play area surrounded by fig trees. There’s a log hill, stepping ‘stones’, and a gathering area with table and chairs, all made from logs.
Elliott really enjoyed jumping from tree trunk to tree trunk. He didn’t stop until he was absolutely satisfied till he had managed to conquer every single step! There are also rope swings and various contraptions kids can challenge their agility and balancing skills with.
Connecting The Kitchen and The Big Fig Adventure is The Log Valley. Kids can explore it via a series of logs which they can jump across, balance on or even crawl under. Because it’s part of the natural landscape, a rain shower could result in a ‘river’ flowing under the log deck. But since it wasn’t raining that day, that’s an adventure for another day!
Finding Peace and Serenity
The Secret Den overlooking The Log Valley is another space that offers a quiet space for kids seeking it. The bamboo grove is a relaxing spot perfect for a daydreamer or friends wanting to share a secret. With sunlight filtering through the bamboo, it’s also a fun place to play with constantly changing shadows.
In this age of digital devices, kids seldom get to play outdoors freely like previous generations did. As a strong advocate of child-directed play, especially in nature, I am really happy that HortPark has created this amazing space for little kids.
The HortPark Nature Playgarden may not have the usual climbing structures, slides and see-saws that conventional playgrounds have, but it offers so much more in unusual ways. The layout, design and structures felt very whimsical, like you’d almost expect a Hobbit or pixie to appear around the corner at any moment. It’s definitely a space that encourages creativity and imagination, no holds barred.
Oh, and as I had promised Elliott, we did more exploring along our way out. One of these included a space where we could observe bees in manmade hives, located adjacent to the Nature Playgarden. And of course, lots more fun at the children’s playground towards the entrance/exit of HortPark. We both had a great time and we’ll definitely be back!
Nature Playgarden at HortPark
Remember the usual sunscreen and mosquito repellent. As kids get thirsty and hungry very quickly after running around in the heat, do pack water and snacks too. Also, note that although HortPark is open till 11pm at night, the Nature Playgarden relies completely upon sunlight. Visitors are advised to avoid entering at night or in bad weather.
Opening hours 6am – 11pm daily (closed on Mondays except public holidays)
Where 33 Hyderabad Road