The newest playground in the Village of Orchard Hills is more than a playground.
It is a living history lesson.
Set in north Irvine, bordering thousands of acres of open space, “Meadow at Groves” tells the story of a meadow.
A sandy creek bed meanders past the swing set. Mountain lion and bobcat footprints appear in the concrete path by the tree fort. Other animal silhouettes (laser-cut in steel) stand in native grasses by the slides. And beyond them lie stands of sycamore, pepper and live oak trees, a great lawn and a view of the entire Irvine valley.
“It evokes the characteristics of open space,” says Richard Roy, Irvine Company’s vice president of Landscape Architecture, Urban Planning and Design.
It also is emblematic of how Irvine Company designs its playgrounds—a unique approach that sets them apart from other playgrounds.
“Each one has a unique idea behind it,” Roy says. “And each one tells a story.
All Irvine Company playgrounds share some things in common: plenty of swings, sand and shade, as well as creative ways to climb, spin, slide and play.
Then there’s that soft, spongy surface (called “resilient surfacing”) made of ground rubber. It’s commonly used now in playgrounds, but Irvine Company spearheaded its use as an artistic palette to create make-believe worlds for children.
In one playground, the resilient surface becomes an imaginary pond filled with colorful fish. In another, it’s a forest thick with leaves and birds. In another, it’s Aladdan’s magic carpet.
“Parents tell us that they appreciate it when our parks use creative storytelling to teach as well as entertain their children,” Roy says.
That’s why the tot lot at Center Terrace Park in Portola Springs teaches 2-to-5 year olds about the five senses with colorful rides, aromatic sage brush, and a tactile wall of games, gears and musical instruments. And that’s why the playground at Egret Park in Stonegate teaches 6-to-11 year olds about the egret’s habitat with art, statuary and native grasses.
Other playgrounds tell the history of Orange County’s old reservoirs, canals and orchards, incorporating surface art, signs, steel etchings, statues, plantings and more.
In all, Irvine Company has built more than 70 playgrounds—donating most to the homeowners’ associations in the villages to which they belong.
And like the new “Meadow at Groves” playground, each is unique.
“We want to give families a reason to visit,” Roy says. “We want variety in the equipment and the play area itself. And if there’s a meaningful educational opportunity, we introduce that, too.”