Creating a unique play destination at Leonardslee Gardens

The entrance to Leonardslee House play area, with a wooden sign and two children running towards the gate on a sunny day.

When a Grade One listed garden approaches you with such a vast and accomplished history as Leonardslee, our curiosity, imagination, and narrative creativity all ignite into how we can build upon the already powerful personality of such a site.

Located in picturesque West Sussex, Leonardslee Gardens boasts a variety of themed areas, including rock gardens, lakes, woodlands and formal plantings. It is also part of the landscape famously linked to the legend of St Leonard, the 6th-century French hermit who is said to have slain England’s last dragon.

Leonardslee approached TouchWood with a brief that challenged us to create a play experience for children of a wide age range and inclusive play for varying ability levels while following three main topics relating to the aesthetic of the grounds: the legend of St Leonard and the dragon, the history and architecture around the estate and finally, the wildlife such as their champion trees and wallaby mob.

Children are playing in an outdoor playground featuring wooden structures. Two girls are climbing on a large wooden sculpture shaped like a dragon's head, with detailed carvings of teeth and eyes. Other children are exploring balance beams and climbing ropes in the background.
James Ratchford Photography

Blending history with play

Research into the history and evolution of Leonardslee Gardens lead to discussions, mind mapping, feature-by-feature concept iterations and eventually the concept creation.

We designed a space that allows children to immerse themselves in the tales of St Leonard and the dragon. To enhance the experience, a series of imaginative and engaging features were developed with scaled-down versions of local landmarks, allowing children to experience the area through physical play and imaginative exploration.

Key features

  • Giant Leonardslee dragon area – a central piece that brings the local legend to life, allowing children to climb and explore.
  • Champion tree area – A living, ever-changing tower structure made from willow, providing a unique and dynamic play element. It also includes a two-seated tango swing and a saw-themed seesaw (a nod to Leonardslee’s woodland management practices), encouraging intergenerational play.


Two children at a playground, one seated on a swing and the other standing beside, ready to push the swing, with a wooden structure in the background.An adult playing with a child on a log hops wooden play equipment











An individual climbing a wooden tower structure at a playground.Several individuals seated on a wooden seesaw play equipment at a playground with a large metallic slide in the background.











  • Miniature Leonardslee house: Designed for toddlers and inclusive play, featuring pots and pans for acoustic play, kinetic sensory elements and talking tubes, as well as accessible play features such as a play kitchen, an inclusive double-width slide and a basket swing.
  • Rock garden: inspired by the Victorian rock gardens and its pollinating bees, this contains a lot of play value including material transfer, climbing, sliding and even developmental benefits with encouraging communication and developing coordination.


a carving of a bee and a flower, a part of a gravel pit playgroundA child plays with gravel at a gravel pit playground.











  • Adventure play area with nets and log trails encourages physical activity and exploration.


A child with glasses is being swung around on a zip wire.A playground bustling with children and adults enjoying climbing structures on a cloudy day.










From concept to play

For this project, we worked particularly closely with third-party contractors for groundwork and landscaping to ensure seamless integration of the playground within the gardens. We opened the playground on schedule in time for the Easter holidays.

Initially planned as a water play area, the mound was adapted to a pea gravel play area due to planning and water conservation considerations. Even after the final concept design was signed off by the Leonardslee team, the technical design stage revealed some extra potential for the children to explore the area available, and an adventure trail was introduced to challenge them further physically and guide them through the flora within the play site. These physical challenges make the children want to return to conquer the dragon next time, increasing the replayability of the play park.

The new play park not only sets Leonardslee Gardens apart from competitors but also reinforces its commitment to providing a family-friendly destination.

Want to attract more visitors to your tourist spot? Get in touch and let us know how we can help.

create A playground that is uniquely yours

Our concept design team can quickly help you explore pricing, themes and play value on a five minute call – submit your email address and our team will get in touch. Our designs are bespoke and no two are the same. Whether you’re a school or a world class leisure park, we can quickly come up with some ideas to support your project.