How to grow your child a living den or playhouse from willow or other plants
Most children thesedays don't spend nearly enough time outdoors enjoying the same adventures we had during our own childhoods. In a day and age where 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 that wherever possible we find ways 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, (in much the same ways we used to during our childhoods).
During my childhood I was fortunate enough to always live in houses with good sized gardens, so I quickly grew accustomed to playing outdoors all summer long, enjoying the wildlife, the fields, the flowers, trees etc. I was a total tomboy, and seldom arrived home without an urgent bath and change of clothes being required following my antics climbing trees, making mud pies or building dens. Luckily for me my parents thoroughly approved, and I guess it also kept me out from under their feet as all they had to do was call for me down the garden 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 had formed a canopy mostly concealing the sky. My friends and I spent many magical hours in our "dens", and when we tired of the pig stys, we would create new dens within 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, germs etc, that most modern (less healthy) children have had removed from their environment by chemical sprays, detergents and bleaches, (therefore leaving them with an immune system not equipped to deal with unexpected exposure to these things). I find this very sad, and hope that I can encourage parents to consider helping their children to spend more time outdoors by actively showing and assisting them in growing their very own den or playhouse. This can be achieved even in a small garden, and there are a couple of very simple ways of doing this which I intend to cover in this article.
The Runner Bean "Teepee" Den
This one is probably the easiest of all the dens to create, plus one that will give your children a great deal of excitement and provide some tasty runner beans for the family to enjoy eating throughout the summer season.
What you will need
1) Approximately 8 - 10 long bamboo canes (6 - 7 feet minimum).
2) A packet of runner bean seeds.
3) Some gardening string or a cable tie or similar.
4) A large roll of gardening string or a roll of chicken wire (optional).
5) 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.
1) Push your bamboo canes into the ground in a circle to form a large pyramid/teepee shape (sometimes incorrectly called a "wigwam" shape) ensuring you leave a large gap between two of the canes which will ultimately form the entrance. Secure the tops of the canes together using either a cable tie or some garden string, twine, wire etc.
2) For best results cover the resulting pyramid / teepee (apart from the entrance) in either chicken wire, or a network of gardening string tied from cane to cane at various heights.
3) By the base of each cane dig an area at least 12" square and 12" deep, (alternatively create an actual 12" wide bed in a ring surrounding the entire perimeter of the bamboo canes).
4) Dig in some compost and/or well rotted manure.
5) Using your finger (or a dibber), poke two holes approximately 1 - 2" deep at the base of each cane.
6) Drop one runner bean seed into each hole and fill the hole with water. Once the water has drained away gently drag soil back over the holes and then water again thoroughly. (Runner Beans seeds can also be started off in 3" pots of compost and transplanted to the base of the canes one they reach about 6" tall).
7) Protect seedlings from slug attack by using 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.
8) If any of the plants fail to find the bamboo canes on their own, then you can carefully wrap the main shoots around the first part of the bamboo canes or chicken wire until they begin to climb naturally.
9) 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.
10) Your children will love to watch their den / playhouse come to life and grow up all on its own. The speed beans grow is impressive and 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 cropping as long as possible).
This den will last throughout most of the Spring and on through to the end of the Summer.
This idea can also be copied using such climbing plants as fragrant Sweet Peas, climbing French Beans etc. I especially like using Sweet Peas as they look beautiful, smell divine and attract lots of wildlife to your garden such as Butterflies, Bees, Birds etc. 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.
- 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.
If you enjoyed this article and found it useful I am sure you will love some of my other articles that suggest ideas for parents and teachers to get their children and pupils interested in growing plants. These articles can be found if you click on the relevant links below:
- Fun Classroom Activities and Experiments to Interest Children / Kids in Growing Plants
- More Fun Classroom Activities to Interest Children / Kids in Growing Plants
- Yet More Fun Classroom Activities to Interest Children / Kids in Growing Plants
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