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Question: What are some outdoor games I can play with my children and barbeque guests—without worrying about damage to my garden?
Answer: There are several fun games that are fairly easy to keep within the bounds of a flat area of lawn or mulch, and out of surrounding flower beds and borders.
Clock golf can be played on any fairly level lawn. Design a clock face as large as you like by simply making a hole at a center point and marking the 12 hours of the clock in relation to it. Put a plastic cup in the center hole. All you need is one golf ball and one club to share among any number of players. Golfers take turns putting from each hour on the clock. Record the number of strokes it takes each golfer to sink the ball from each hour. Add up the numbers after everyone has played through all 12 “holes." The golfer with the lowest total score wins.
Best played in a sheltered yard or on a windless day, badminton is fairly safe for the garden. The shuttlecock, or birdie, is very light, so should it fly into a planted area it will not damage flowers or stems. Someone can carefully go in after it. Rackets and shuttlecocks are fairly inexpensive and widely available. This game can be played without a net by just batting the shuttlecock back and forth.
This game was designed to be played on board a ship, so it is ideal for a small garden. Set up an adjustable game net to about 4.5 feet high and mark a “neutral zone” of 18 inches on each side of it. Two to four players toss a rubber ring across the net. (You could make do with a Frisbee.) It should be thrown single handedly, caught single handedly and immediately thrown back. You earn a point if the opponent(s) fail to return the ring or if it lands in the neutral zone. The first side to 15 points wins the set; 3 or 5 sets make a complete game, with the side winning the majority of sets the champion.
Tetherball is perhaps the ultimate “garden-safe” game. Tied to a sturdy metal post, the ball has no chance of flying off into planted areas. Two players stand on either side of the pole and hit the ball toward each other with one hand. They hit the ball in the opposite direction than it is traveling; in other words, back the same way it came. The strategy is to try to hit the ball so that the opponent cannot alter the ball’s direction. The game is over when one player hits the ball in his or her own direction as far as it will go, so that the ball hits the pole.
Outdoor Board Games
For something less active while the barbecue digests, there are some favorite board games that have been redesigned for the garden. There's aptly named MegaChess, oversized Four-in-a-Row and Checkers with a five-foot board. While Jenga was once relegated to a tabletop, there are now giant-size versions, like Jumbo JR. and Jenga Giant, that work great on the lawn or patio. Meanwhile Yahtzee has been reimagined as Yardzee, with 3.5-inch wooden dice ready to roll across the grass.