How to Grow a Child's Living Den or Playhouse With Willow
Most children these days don't spend nearly enough time outdoors enjoying the adventures we had during our childhoods. In a day and age when computer games appear to be the top form of entertainment for youngsters (resulting in under-socialised, unfit, and often unhealthy children), it is vitally important to encourage our children to play outdoors more often. Children should learn to appreciate the excitement, magic, and fun that can be enjoyed by simply being in the fresh air, surrounded by nature, running, playing, and using their imaginations.
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. I guess it also kept me out from under their feet, as all they had to do was call for me when dinner was ready.
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 pig stys made great dens, hidden away in the depths of the quarry, largely shaded by huge trees which formed a canopy that mostly concealed the sky. My friends and I spent many magical hours there, and when we tired of the pig stys, 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 exercise ourselves 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, which I intend to cover in this article.
The Runner Bean "Teepee" Den
This is probably the easiest den to create. Your children a great deal of excitement and some tasty runner beans to enjoy eating throughout the summer season.
What you will need:
- 8 - 10 long bamboo canes (6 - 7 feet minimum).
- A packet of runner bean seeds.
- Some gardening string, a cable tie, or similar.
- A large roll of gardening string or roll of chicken wire (optional).
- A spare area of garden, either on a border or on a lawn if you don't mind a little of the lawn being removed to plant the seeds.
- 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 canes for the entrance. Secure the tops together with a cable tie or garden string, 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" square and 12" deep. Alternatively, create a continuous 12" wide bed in a ring surrounding the entire perimeter of the bamboo canes.
- Dig 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 beans seeds can also be started in 3" pots of compost and the transplanted to the base of the canes one they reach about 6" in height.
- Protect seedlings from slug attack 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.
- Tip: remember to keep harvesting the beans regularly to encourage the plants to continue flowering and producing for as long as possible.
- This den will last throughout most of the spring and on through to the end of the summer.
Substitute Sweet Peas for Running 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.
Building a Willow Dome
- Living Willow Structures, Fedges and Living Fences - North America
A good place to buy willow rods.
The Willow Den.
This den is more of a permanent one, so select your location carefully. This also works best on a moist soil (although not essential) as willow does like to have moisture at the roots.
What you will need
1) A large bundle of long green willow rods about 6' + in length
2) Weed suppressing membrane for under the structure, although straw will also work well but needs periodic replacing / topping up.
1) First lay your weed suppressing membrane across the surface of the area you intend to grow your children's den or playhouse.
2) To create the basic structure three and two year old rods are best because of the height they will provide. Puncture holes approx 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.
3) Use the two year old rods as uprights 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.
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