How to build a living willow dome playhouse for under £40

A lot of lucky kids have playhouses in the garden which are smashing but they do cost a fortune. This new structure in the garden for our kids to play in cost £40 for materials (willow ‘withy wood’, twine and weed-free membrane) plus a half-day of labour. It looks quite pretty already but it should grow leaves all over it soon and will be a lovely leafy hideaway in our garden which has no shade at all for the children on a hot sunny day.

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My daughter spotted a book in the adults section of our tiny local library and asked me to borrow it. We looked at How Does Your Garden Grow?: Great Gardening for Green-Fingered Kids (Hamlyn Gardening) by Clare Matthews and Clive Nichols that evening and were really excited to see so many great but easy looking projects and ideas with step-by-step lovely photos. Things like painting a couple of old tyres and stacking them to form a pretty pot for a small tree or shrub which could also be used as a seat for a little one. I showed the ‘Build a willow dome’ project to Bealers who to my amazement said ‘Get the wood & I’ll have a go at building that’.

After dinner I searched the internet for local suppliers of willow cuttings and found that it is only sold during the winter period Nov-March due to its dormant season (it starts putting out roots and shoots in spring and needs to be planted before then). A local supplier, JPR Willow ‘Living Willow & Sculpture Supplies’ had sold out of most of the bundles of willow but were still selling bundles of 8ft rods for £30 and could deliver on Monday but as we were near them on Saturday we picked it up instead.

One day’s hard graft in the garden by Bealers but with 6 of his nearest/dearest keeping him company in the warm April sunshine on Sunday we are now the proud owners of a new playhouse that will hopefully root and grow.

With just a small touch of irony we have called it ‘Withywood House’ as it is made of ‘withy’ wood but also because the large sprawling south Bristol council estate Bealers grew up on is called Withywood (if you click on the link you’ll see just how green and leafy a place it isn’t). His mum and step-dad still live there and they were here for the weekend while he built it.

Step 1: Draw a circle with a stick and a bit of string cut to the length of the radius. Apparently the rods should be twice as long as the diameter of your hut. Ours were 8ft so thehut is approximately 4ft across.

Step 2: Dig out the turf within this circle and edge it with compost so the rods have something nice to grow into. We put the discarded turf pieces upside down on the compost pile hoping that they will rot down there instead of growing.

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Step 3: Peg in a weed-free membrane.

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Step 4: Make the doorway with two strong rods.

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Step 5: Start poking the 6 structural rods through the membrane and into the ground so that enough of the length of them will root and has a good foundation for the dome.

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Step 6: Start bending them into the middle and tying together with garden twine.

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Step 7: Create a ‘supporting wall’ for the top of the door.

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Step 8: Start adding the ‘wall’ rods in an oversized basket-weaving fashion working them in at an angle and parallel to each other in one direction then back the other way with the rods going in the other direction.

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Step 9: Tie with twine at each intersection (not photographed because we left Bealers to it while we went to a four year olds party). Apparently this step takes some time.

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