What?: As much as I love long walks, rooftop gardens and the odd decent playground, the last thing you would call me is “outdoorsy”. Before we started hanging out with my mate Kerri and her inexplicably robust child Sprog, the idea of taking Babu to adventure playgrounds, nature gardens and on woodland adventures had barely even occurred to me, and these sorts of activities were routinely snubbed (and, to be honest, still are to some extent) in favour of nice, clean inside things like galleries and museums.
The first ever thing we did with Kerri and Sprog was hang out in a very muddy Queen’s Wood in Highgate, and I remember the weird mix of admiration and horror I felt when Sprog happily plonked himself down, bum first, in a massive puddle while Kerri didn’t so much as blink. We’ve since gone on – and enjoyed – dozens of outdoorsy excursions with Kerri and Sprog, from the amazing Parkland Walk on the site of an old railway that ran from Finsbury Park to Ally Pally to numerous under-5s sessions in big, intimidating playgrounds usually reserved for much older kids, and while I still probably wouldn’t let Babu sit fully clothed in a puddle – not that she’d want to since I’ve already passed my fear of cold, damp, unclean things down to her – I’ve definitely broken free of my comfort zone, and we’ve discovered some absolute gems in the process.
Oasis Nature Garden is one such gem. Nestled behind Stockwell Tube, towards Battersea, this incredible space comprises dipping ponds, a mud kitchen, play houses and loads more, with a large clubhouse-type building at its centre. We visited during the summer holidays, when Oasis was running its five-week summer play scheme, and got so into it we stayed four hours, only moving on because we’d (somewhat ridiculously) decided we also needed to go to Peckham that day.
Babu and I were both pretty blown away by this place, which Kerri and Sprog had already visited several times. On arrival we were warmly greeted by the brilliant volunteers and I was asked to fill out a short registration form while Babu got stuck straight into the amazing old American-style dolls’ house inside the main building. She’s currently having a bit of a jigsaw moment, and was keen to do a couple of the many puzzles that were piled high on the rainy-day shelves, and then we all played a game where you have to pick up cards to create a full meal, avoiding the food that had been contaminated by bugs. Later we joined in with the paper-lantern-painting activity that some of the older kids were doing outside on the deck, then when they tired of that five minutes later we set about exploring the garden.
First up was an amazing double-height (if you’re a toddler) wooden playhouse featuring a Mondrian-esque painted interior and everything one might need to run a pretend household. We all suffered the effects of a Babu’s-fingers-trapped-in-the-door-hinge accident in here, but on the plus side you know that when they start messing around with doors and not letting each other in because it’s their house then you’ve found a good playhouse. This beaut also had a slide structure attached, with a big double sandpit just outside. I thought this would probably be the extent of the garden’s playhouse offering, but it was like a tiny village, with a cone-roofed witchy hut down the bottom and an amazing two-storey structure with a slope running up to the top and a lower floor whose walls had been adorned with old card payment machines, telephones and clocks, like some kind of batshit control room for a power plant run by toddlers (imagine).
Actually this building weirdly reminded me of Cameron’s house from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (and if you haven’t seen that you probably need to have a think about what you’re doing with your life). Basically it’s a house on stilts that you can see right through, and the kids spent a decent chunk of our time here throwing themselves off the top floor onto the squishy soft-play shapes that we’d set up underneath… much like Cameron’s Dad’s Ferrari when it hurtles backwards through the glass wall of their house and lands in the woods below, although thankfully the kids fared better than the car (again, making no apologies to people who haven’t seen the film and have no idea what I’m on about).
Other highlights included watering all the plants, jumping around in their self-made mud pit (a change of clothes is pretty essential here), dangling around on the rope bridge, making a den using trees and a random tarpaulin, hanging out in a tent at the bottom of the garden, riding the many ride-ons that peppered the space and probably a bunch of other stuff I’ve forgotten about because it was six weeks ago and I really need to get better at reviewing things as soon as they happen rather then 12 years later when I’m reliving the whole thing through the billions of photos I took and getting sad that it’s not summer anymore and Babu’s at nursery and her childhood is basically over (sob). Seriously though, this place is something else.
Where and When?: Oasis Nature Garden can be found on Stockwell’s Larkhall Lane, SW4 6SP, and is a six-minute walk from Stockwell Tube station. The garden welcomes under-5s (accompanied by a parent or carer) during its 5-12s after-school and school holiday sessions, as well as offering under-5s-only sessions on Friday mornings (during term time, and being open to all on Saturdays (10.30-4).
Best Bits: It’s really hard to pick one, or even a handful. Beautiful space, lovely volunteers, great activities and it was all completely free.
Worst Bits: We mistakenly went to the big-kids’ adventure playground bit first since the way this is labelled on Google Maps is a bit confusing. Thankfully Kerri spotted me from down the street and messaged me telling me to turn around. This might just have been me being a bit thick though.
Facilities: Baby changing, step-free access, buggy parking.
Cost: Free, though donations are welcomed.
Would We Come Back?: Yes!
Babu makes herself at home in the playhouse at Oasis Nature Garden, Stockwell.