Making Our Willow Den

One thing we have always wanted to do is to make a willow den. This has been put on hold many times because we have never lived anywhere with a garden big enough to build one in without it taking over all the space.

Making Our Willow Den

We still don’t have a garden big enough to build one in… but we do now have an allotment, and a willow den seemed the perfect way of providing the Little Trekkers with something to do when they need a break from the hard graft of tilling the land.

And so, this winter, we decided that the time had come to build our den. We decided we would build something big enough for a grown-up to stand up in; this meant it really had to be 2 metres tall, which meant getting 3-metre whips. We also decided to go for a straightforward dome shape on the basis that tunnels would be awkward for adults to negotiate and would invite games of ‘Catch Me If You Can’ at ‘Going Home’ time, which would probably not be conducive to creating the happy family times we envisaged.

There was great excitement when the whips arrived, conveniently in time for the start of the Christmas holidays. “Ooh, Mummy! What are those great big long parcels in the front garden? Is it a willow den? Yippeee!”

We transported it all down to the allotment and set about our task under the gaze of our bemused flock of chickens. First, we pegged out the weed matting and marked our circle. Then cut holes about 30 centimetres apart and planted our big whips. After that, we planted ‘weavers’ in between the big whips, and used five long whips to form a ‘horizontal’ at about chest height which gave rigidity to our structure. All the whips needed about 10 centimetres cutting off the bottom end, which meant allowing James to use the loppers, which made his day. (It was a bit nerve-racking for mummies, but we got through it without incident). The most difficult bit was definitely drawing the roof in, as it relied on persuading the whips to describe an arc and they had a tendency to keep popping out. We re-did the roof as our first attempt made it a little too pointy and more like a wigwam than a dome.

In retrospect, given the limited hours of daylight in December, and factoring in that the Little Trekkers in the family wanted to ‘help’, we should have started building far earlier in the day than we did. As it was, we didn’t start until after lunchtime, and we ended up finishing it off by headtorch and floodlight, but this made it all the more memorable. Children find some of the most basic things so very exciting if you do them somewhere unusual. “Pasta? At the allotment? Wow! An Elevenses bar? Wow! This is a great picnic, Mummy! Hot Vimto from a flask? Wow! This is the best day ever!”

Now that we’re happy with the shape, we still have a bit of work to do as we need to replace all the bits of string with stretchy flexi-tie before the willow starts growing. We’ll need to do this fairly soon as the buds are already starting to break. The children are so proud of what we’ve built together and I’m sure the den is going to be great fun for all of us.

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About the Author

Helen & Ian

Helen & Ian

About Me & Mine

Hi there! Helen and Ian here from the Oxfordshire-Wiltshire border! We have two boys who love everything in the Great Outdoors (especially sticks), and a border collie who also loves everything in the Great Outdoors (especially tennis balls). We also have a toddler daughter who is fiercely independent and proving to be just as intrepid as her brothers.

Favourite place in the world:

A difficult one... There are so many wonderful places to choose from... But it has to be Sandwood Bay in the far north-west of Scotland which can only be reached by a 4-mile walk. Last time we went it was a full-on winter mountaineering experience (with ice axe and crampons!) just to get there. Wild and windswept, it's totally unspoilt.

Favourite things to do outdoors:

Enjoy beaches, woods, and coastal paths; explore waterways in our open canoe; go for a big day out on a small hill; go rock climbing; collect sticks, conkers, and acorns; investigate puddles and rockpools; ride our tandem; fly a kite against a clear blue sky.

Comments (3)

  • Jay Greengrass

    Jay Greengrass

    01 March 2017 at 10:03 | #

    That looks like a brilliant den - well done all of you! I laughed at your tip about eating outdoors: my picky kids will eat anything outside so long as it includes a boiled egg and is labelled 'picnic'. How's the den looking now? Does the willow just grow roots and keep on growing?


  • Helen and Ian

    Helen and Ian

    05 March 2017 at 14:18 | #

    Hi Jay! Yes, we are all pretty pleased with the den and it is beginning to grow now, or at least the uprights (the ones planted in the ground) are. The horizontals (not planted) will die but are just there to add structure. I was going to do another blog once the growth gets going in earnest and we've put some bark down inside. Then we can have some more 'picnics'!


  • Carl


    10 August 2017 at 09:02 | #

    My little boy is only 5 months old - I can't wait to do this for him! We already have willow growing for fire wood!!!!


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