How to Grow a Child's Living Den or Playhouse From Willow or Bamboo
During my childhood, I was fortunate enough to live in houses with good-sized gardens, so I grew accustomed to playing outdoors all summer long, enjoying the wildlife, fields, flowers and trees. I was a total tomboy and seldom arrived home without needing an urgent bath and change of clothes. I climbed trees, made mud pies and built dens. Luckily, my parents thoroughly approved.
One of my favourite outdoor activities was building dens. One of the homes we lived in had loads of land, and we had our own field—a small area of woodland and an old, disused quarry that had formerly been a pig farm. The remains of the old stone pigsties made great dens, hidden away in the depths of the quarry, largely shaded by huge trees that formed a canopy concealing most of the sky.
My friends and I spent many magical hours there. When we tired of the pigsties, we created new dens in large bushes or behind undergrowth. Our imaginations were totally stimulated and we were fit, healthy, active and happy children, more than willing to get exercise by dragging large branches around to conceal our latest creations.
We seldom caught colds or illnesses, because we had developed strong immune systems from constant contact with the normal dirt, mud, and germs that most modern (less healthy) children have had removed from their environment. I find this very sad and hope that I can encourage parents to consider helping their children to spend more time outdoors by growing their very own den or playhouse. This can be done even in a small garden. There are a couple of very simple methods that I intend to cover in this article.
The Willow Playhouse
How to Make a Willow Den or Playhouse
This den is more of a permanent one, so select your location carefully. This also works best on moist soil (although not essential), as willow does like to have moisture at the roots.
What You'll Need:
- A large bundle of long, green willow rods about 6" or more in length (having a variety of one-, two- and three-year-old rods is ideal).
- Weed-suppressing membrane for under the structure (straw will also work well but needs periodic replacing/topping up).
- First, lay your weed-suppressing membrane across the surface of the area you intend to grow your children's den or playhouse.
- To create the basic structure, two- and three-year-old rods are best because of the height they will provide. Puncture holes approximately 2"–3" in diameter through the areas in the membrane where your rods need to be planted.
- Plant the three-year-old rods to create the main frame of the structure. Decide where you want your entrance. Place the rods at each side of it, and tie the tops together, creating a sort of wigwam.
- Use the two-year-old rods for vertical support, and one-year-old rods as the diagonal weave. The top of the den will be open at first. You will gradually close up the gap when new growth can be woven and tied in during winter maintenance in the following years.
Note: If you're having trouble finding appropriate willow rods, Bluestem Nursery is a good place to find a wide selection of willow rods for purchase, along with some helpful ideas to guide you in the process of making your own living playhouse.
The Runner Bean Playhouse
How to Make a Runner Bean Teepee, Den or Playhouse
This is probably the easiest den to create. Your children will have a great outdoor playhouse to have endless hours of fun in, with the added bonus of your entire family getting to feast on tasty runner beans throughout the summer season.
What You'll Need:
- 8–10 long bamboo canes (6–7 feet minimum)
- Packet of runner bean seeds
- Some gardening string (a cable tie or something similar will work)
- Chicken wire (optional)
- A spare area of garden (perhaps on a nice patch of your lawn)
- Push your bamboo canes into the ground in a circle, and form a large pyramid/teepee shape (sometimes incorrectly called a 'wigwam'). Be sure to leave a large gap between two specific canes for the entrance. Secure the tops together with garden string, cable tie, twine or wire.
- For best results, cover the resulting pyramid/teepee (apart from the entrance) with either chicken wire or a network of gardening string tied from cane-to-cane at various heights.
- At the base of each cane, dig an area at least 12" wide, 12" long and 12" deep. Alternatively, create a continuous 12"-wide bed in a ring surrounding the entire perimeter of the bamboo canes.
- Mix in some compost and/or well-rotted manure.
- Using your finger (or a dibber), poke two holes approximately 1"–2" deep at the base of each cane.
- Drop one runner bean seed into each hole and fill with water. Once the water has drained away, gently drag soil back over the holes and water again thoroughly. Runner bean seeds can also be started in 3" pots of compost and then transplanted to the base of the canes once they reach about 6" in height.
- Protect seedlings from slug attacks with either organically approved slug pellets (harmless to children and pets) or by manually removing and destroying slugs each evening until the bean plants are about 6" tall.
- If any of the plants fail to find the bamboo canes on their own, you can carefully wrap the main shoots around the first part of the bamboo canes or chicken wire until they begin to climb naturally.
- Surround the base of the plants with lawn mowings, bark chips or similar to keep weeds down and moisture in. Water frequently during long dry spells.
Your children will love to watch their den/playhouse come to life and grow up all on its own. The speed at which beans grow is impressive. It will not require much patience on the part of your children. Ultimately, they will also be fascinated by the fun of harvesting their own beans. Plus, the den will look ever so pretty covered in the delicate red flowers that runner beans produce in abundance.
The den will last from the start of spring and on through the end of summer. Just remember to keep harvesting the beans regularly to encourage the plants to continue flowering and producing for as long as possible.
Alternatives to Runner Beans
This den can also be made with other climbing plants, including fragrant sweet peas, which look beautiful, smell divine and attract lots butterflies, bees and birds to your garden. You also have the advantage of a summer-long supply of gorgeous, scented blooms to fill the vases around your home. And the more you pick the flowers, the more they produce.