The fun and pure joy that a playhouse can bring to a child’s early years creates memories that last a lifetime. Not only does a playhouse encourage imagination and creativity, but spending time playing outdoors also sets a child up with a stronger immune system and a healthier start overall.
While a quality wooden playhouse can end up quite costly, you could give your child something even better, for a fraction of the cost…
A living playhouse brings the life and energy from the natural world into a child’s playtime, and the way in which it constantly changes adds to the magic even more. Whether you go for something permanent or seasonal, here are three living playhouses that you can grow yourself in your garden.
Willow dens create a cave-like atmosphere that children love, but keep in mind that, unlike the other living kids playhouses on this list, your willow plantings will be permanent, so choose a good site.
What You Need for a Willow Playhouse
- Green willow rods, at least 6 inches in length. These can be fresh cuttings from a willow tree you already have in your garden, or purchased from a garden centre or online seller.
- Some type of flooring that will also suppress weeds. A simple black weed-suppressing sheet will work fine, or you can also prepare the area and sow it with grass seed. Straw is another popular option, but this will need to be regularly replaced.
How to Grow a Willow Playhouse
Cut willow branches quickly form roots and turn into trees of their own, and this rapid speed is what makes willow the perfect material to use for a childrens playhouse.
To begin, plan out the perimeter of your playhouse – a dome is the simplest way to go, but feel free to get more creative, even adding in various ‘rooms’ if you have the space to do so.
Then, lay your flooring before inserting your willow rods about two or three inches deep, at regular intervals around the perimeter of the playhouse.
Spacing depends on how solid you want the structure to be – if you plant them so close that they’re almost touching, you’ll have a wooden playhouse wall in a few years time. Alternatively, give the rods more room, anywhere from a few inches to a few feet, to allow light to filter through, adding to the magical quality of the playhouse.
Keep your willow rods well-watered while they establish and grow – willow loves water, so the more you give it, the faster it will grow. A fertiliser in the spring and summer can help to push growth too.
As your willow grows, you will be able to start bending the stems into your chosen shape, while also weaving stems horizontally and diagonally for extra support. Don’t forget to also weave in a doorway!
Pea or Bean Teepee
If you’re looking for a living playhouse that isn’t as permanent as willow and can grow in just a couple of months, then try creating a pea or bean teepee. This has the added advantage of producing a vegetable too, which can really help children to connect with nature and become more interested in what they are eating.
What You Need for a Pea or Bean Teepee Playhouse
- Long bamboo canes, which will form the structure of the teepee
- Garden twine for tying the canes together
- Pea or bean seeds or seedlings. Look for tall-growing varieties that you and your children will enjoy eating. Alternatively, grow sweet pea flowers, which will fill the playhouse with the most gorgeous fragrance
How to Grow a Pea or Bean Teepee Playhouse
You will need to first form the structure of your teepee with your bamboo canes.
The easiest way to do this is to push the canes into the ground in a circular formation, leaning them all in and tying them together at the top. Don’t forget to leave a gap that’s large enough to work as an entrance to the playhouse.
At this stage, you also have the option of adding more string or chicken wire around the canes. This isn’t essential, but it will give your plants more support to climb, which will give the playhouse a fuller and lusher look.
Prepare the soil around the teepee structure for planting. You won’t need to amend it, as peas and beans don’t require nutrient-rich soil, but remove any weeds or grass and rake it over.
If you’re growing your teepee from seed, make small holes, about one and a half inches deep, in the soil around your teepee. Space each hole a few inches apart, before dropping a seed into each hole and covering back over. Alternatively, dig holes large enough to accommodate the root balls of your seedlings, before placing your seedlings in and covering back over.
Keep the area watered well. As the plants grow, you may need to initially train their tendrils around the teepee structure. However, once they get going, they’ll find their own way, and it won’t be long before your teepee is covered with foliage, flowers, and maybe even vegetables!
Sunflowers are one of the easiest plants to grow, making this a great way to get your children involved in creating their playhouse too. In addition to their bright and cheery blooms, sunflowers also attract butterflies, and their huge leaves add another dimension of adventure to a kids playhouse.
What You Need for a Sunflower Playhouse
- Sunflower seeds. Choose giant sunflower varieties, although you may also want to plant some smaller sunflowers in between.
- Other climbing plant seeds, such as morning glory, sweet peas, runner beans, or anything else that can form the ‘ceiling’ of the playhouse
How to Grow a Sunflower Playhouse
This is a fast and easy playhouse to make, because you don’t need to create any structures.
Instead, simply mark out the shape and size of your playhouse on the soil – a simple rectangle usually works best. Then, create a two-inch furrow around the rectangle, before placing your sunflower seeds within this at regular intervals. This should be done in the spring.
Leave about six inches of space between seeds. If you want to sow your seeds a little thicker for extra insurance, then be prepared to have to thin seedlings out at a later date – if your plants are too crowded, the sunflowers won’t be able to grow as tall and busy as they should, which will leave the playhouse looking quite bare.
Then, add your other climbing seeds into the furrow with the sunflowers, but only on two sides of your rectangle base. Fill in and keep well-watered.
If you’ve spaced your sunflowers out well, they should support each other as they grow. If they start to lean, you may need to add in some canes for extra support.
The climbing plant you’ve chosen will scramble up the sunflower stalks – once they reach the top, gently wind them along the middle to form the roof of your playhouse.
Grass works well as a simple flooring for a sunflower playhouse, although you could also use straw.
If you really get creative, there are so many different playhouses that you could grow in your garden. Don’t limit yourself to just one type either – try mixing a willow structure with peas, beans, and sunflowers for the ultimate childrens playhouse.