Building A Willow Den

A couple of weeks ago we planted some willow shoots to make our own little den in the garden.
 Planting living willow structures has really taken off over the past few years and it’s easy to see why as they provide a cheap, easy and exciting way to create play spaces for children.  In the playground at the school I taught at, a huge dome shaped hideout was planted for the children as part of an Eco-Schools project and was so  wonderful that I’ve been wanting to try one for our own garden, on a tiny scale!
 This is what we did. I ordered some Salix Triandra Willow Stems from eBay (if you can believe it!) and found a little space in a flowerbed and cleared out some of the weeds (we have a lot!) These shoots had roots so I just dug them into the ground and planted them in a semi-circle, at evenly spaced intervals.
 Then I pulled them in towards the centre, wove them through each other a little and tied them loosely with garden twine. Now, one of the major shortfalls in internet ordering is not being able to see the product before it arrives and I was SO disappointed to see how short these stems were. I was planning on spacing them much further apart so that I could bend them over to create a taller and wider dome-shaped den. They are so short that the only shape I could make was a wigwam, but I’m considering this my tester model and going with it!
Actually, I quite like how cosy and cute it’s going to be as a little cubby for the girls to go and sit and read a book in!


 And one week later the first green leaves started to grow along the stems! When they are fully grown they will eventually cover the little den so that it becomes a private hideout and they will protect from the sun and wind.
 The season for planting these in the UK is now over until November because they can’t be planted while the leaves are out (I don’t know why, sorry!) If this one takes off and works well then I am planning to plant a tunnel in November that will hopefully be fully sprouted and lush by the following Summer! Next time I will be planting Salix Viminalis, which are Willow whips (long cuttings) and these will be much longer, more flexible and therefore more versatile. I’m sure the seasons for planting are different in each country so it’s worth checking where you live.
For more inspiration check out this beautiful page which chronicles how one school made a huge structure in their grounds. And look at these wonderful ideas for building dens, tunnels and domes and even sculptures!

This activity is good for:
* teaching about planting and growing
* encouraging outdoor play
* teaching responsibility for caring for living things


  1. says

    I’m hooked! I spent a good part of yesterday working in our garden, hatching summer plans. We started some sweet peas on a trellis to create some happy kid shade, but this idea is much more workable. Off to find some (tall) branches! Thank you for working out the details for the rest of us 😉

  2. says

    Oh my goodness. I am in love with this idea. Why have I never even heard of this before. I am definitely setting aside space in my new yard to build E an awesome willow dome!

  3. says

    WOW. What a completely amazing idea. I’m there! will get planting in November when I do the bulbs. Just mentally thinking my way round the garden to decide where to put ours…

  4. Anonymous says

    Oh wow, I love this idea!!! I’m sad I don’t have a yard though.
    -Sarah, Australia

  5. says

    Thanks for the step by step guide – this is something I’ve always wanted to try but haven’t quite known where to start. This term our goal is to garden, garden, garden and we want to create a bean teepee and an arbour with passionfruit vines. Now I think we will add a willow hut as well!

  6. says

    Greetings! I am a mama with a 15 month old and I am really loving a lot of ideas on your blog! However I am a little confused by why you call this structure a “wigwam”. I am an enrolled member of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, a tribal community in the United States that happened to live in homes called wigwams pre-European contact and I really don’t understand the connection.

  7. says

    Hello Shinaabikwe! Thanks so much for your comment. I guess my simple answer would be that we always referred to all play house structures that we built as children by that name. Perhaps it is something we got stuck on at some point in this country? Having just looked them up I see that’s not what we have made here at all, so I should stick with calling it a den!