All children love to have places to hide in the garden. When creating a garden for young children plan for a den that will suit now and for the future. A well thought out structure will last and be used for years. It can provide a place for a toddler to play peek-a-boo to a refuge for an older child for quiet play and even homework. Protection from the elements, shade from the sun and shelter from the wind and rain allows maximum possible use and can extend your families use of the garden.
Consider providing a play house that can be changed and adapted, and allows children to let their imagination run wild. Think in terms of a basic structure that children can create various settings. A pirate ship can only be a pirate ship whereas a den with a roof and four walls can be a house, shop, hospital and rocket. The scenarios are endless.
A recent survey by the National Trust found that building a den is a favourite outdoor memory for a quarter of all adults. So don’t do all the work for them. As a child I can remember spending hours of endless fun placing covers over the washing line and pegging them out. Your children can do something similar or use the structure of a swing or climbing frame to make a roof and walls.
If you have space children can help plant a runner bean teepee in the spring. Place a minimum of 8 bamboo poles in a circle leaving a gap between 2 of the poles large enough for your child to enter. Tie together at the top with strong twine. Plant 2 runner bean plants at each pole (hopefully at least one per pole will survive, but be vigilant for slugs and snails) and keep watering. By the time the school summer holidays arrive the plants will have reached the top of the poles and the space between the poles will be filled with bean leaves, and red flowers turning into runner beans. You will then have created a very tasty leafy hideaway. You can also plant willow teepees and we have further information on our blog on how we created a living willow wigwam.
For instant dens, there are a wide range of pop up tents and tunnels to choose from. Your beach tent will also work well. My 4 year old son’s favourite tent is a teepee tent easily erected with an integral floor. It suits us well as it will cope with being left out for a couple of days and sustain a heavy shower.
The king of all dens and also high on my son’s wish list has to be a tree house. There is nothing better to invoke a wonderful feeling of escape and seclusion. It truly is a site from which to survey and rule the world. There are now new rules about raised platforms in garden requiring planning permission so check before embarking on such a project. It will be a pity if this means that future generations are deterred from building treehouses.
Alas we do not have a suitable tree in our garden, but I am pondering purchasing a raised playhouse with space to play underneath as well as inside. This can be sourced from B&Q which has a wide range of wooden and plastic playhouses. John Lewis and the Early Learning Centre also stock a wide variety of garden dens.