The backyard part 2: The hideout.


If you read The Backyard: Part 1 then you will notice how sad and decrepid the tree branch hut looks in the above photo compared to earlier in the summer.  You might also notice that bush behind the hut looks decidedly less bush-like (and is lying in a pile next to the hut).  Hmmm, yes, that.  Well,  the girls had great plans for a hideout that was, uh, hidden by those bushes that were there but now aren’t.  You see, when we went to execute our plan of building a hideout that was behind and under said bushes we discovered that most of the bushes and trees back there were diseased or dead. That was a sad day.  I am not one to take down trees lightly but when one can rip off a tree limb with your bare hand, well…it is likely better to take it down than to have it fall and hurt someone playing in a hideout beneath.


So we went to work and made five trips to the dump….yes, five.  It was a work out.  And while J and I cleared the girls revised their plans.  More drawing ensued.  Plans now include planting bushes and trees in front of the hideout.  I hope they realize that might take some time…

While we were working we also put out a call for building supplies on facebook.  Friends came up with old fence panels, pallets, walls and left over decking and fencing, windows, roofing paper and shingles.  This was going from hideout to playhouse pretty fast.  Knowing how expensive those things can be we were a little reluctant but given how generous people have been we’ve been able to get going on this really fast and really cheap!  We borrowed trucks for pick up and had spontaneous dropoffs.  It has been wonderful and we are so grateful!


Probably the girls favourite pick up was going to get some real kid sized tool belts and hammers from Auntie T’s house to borrow for the duration of the build.  Straight to work they went.  The Missus reported to her grandfather that “hammering is hard work but it is a whole lotta fun too!”.


She also made sure to take breaks between hammering to make it more manageable!!


Have I mentioned yet in this post today how much I love my kids?  No?  Well let me tell you why I do.  I love them because nothing can box them in.  A tool belt is perfect for babywearing (why can’t moms work construction and bring their kids to work? There are no limits).  A construction site can still be beautified…why not find a bottle or a jar and pick some flowers from the garden while you work to ensure everyone has a glorious workspace?  (I mean really, why not?  We  should all do this before working in any setting.  I can dig these fresh-cut flowers, I can).


Whoa!  I thought you said this was a simple and cheap project Kelli, you exclaim.  It is, I respond.  All that lumber for the foundation?  Free.  The concrete patio blocks it is set on?  Free.  Seriously.  Ask friends or go on kijiji.  You will find stuff that people don’t want and they will be thrilled that you are going to come and take it out of their garage, basement or backyard.


What’s this?  The beginnings of the required and requested trapdoor.  Those bricks?  From the chimney we had removed from our house last year.  Wait, bricks?  Right.  A video on how to build a foundation on you tube said to do this to deter small animals from living under your foundation.  Time will tell if this was a good idea.


Can you see it?  The trap door I mean?  It is there.  Look harder.

trap door

There it is!  Perfect for hiding secret documents and supplies.


Fast forward a little.  The side wall is being covered in the boards from the old fence panels we were given.  They were a breeze to take apart even if taking out the nails was a little tedious.  The front wall is being covered in the remains of a wall from some other structure from someone else’s backyard.  It won’t cover the entire front but some of the wood from one of the free pallets is a pretty good match so we’ll use that to complete it.  This wall was harder to deconstruct as it was in rougher shape and some of the boards shattered or were too rotten when I took them apart.  Also note that pallets are fairly easy to find but come in varying shades of quality.  Choose wisely, ensure you have a skill saw available to you for the tear down and expect the deconstruction of a pallet to take some time and a whole lot of patience.  But that’s okay beacuse, hey, it is free right?

The posts on the porch area were rescued from a friend’s basement.  The lumber for the studs and roof were a mix of old and new.  Since I took apart walls and fences we reused most of the nails and people gave us some of their left over supplies from other projects (including from our backyard neighbour who we met when we removed the deadfall tree and we could finally see through to her yard….these projects really can bring people to together.  Did I mention we are grateful?


Here is the view from the front…

hideoutfrom the inside

And from inside.  It is really starting to shape up!  And we are all learning a lot.

hideoutharvestBreak time was spent raiding the garden…and it was extended for said snack inside the almost complete hideout…

We are still searching for materials to cover the last two walls.  We are determined not to break the bank doing this.  After we buy the plywood for the roof (remember we already have new to us roofing materials like shingles)  we estimate that we will have spent just over $300.  So we’ll be searching the free ads from wood scraps until we find enough to finish.

Stay tuned for The Backyard Part 3:  Making a hideout a hideout.  Pulley’s, trapdoors and periscopes oh my!


The Backyard Part 1: Natural Playscapes for kids

We have a lovely, large backyard.   The woman who lived here before us was a champion gardener and a member of the horticultural society and there are incredible flowerbeds…everywhere.  I am not complaining, afterall, that is quite a gift (even if I have my work more than cut out for me trying to keep them up).  But while flowers are pretty we needed some areas that the kids could play in and explore.  And we needed to do it on a budget.  Natural playscapes appealed to us and we were intrigued by living willow structures and had even found a Canadian source for willow cuttings.  But again, we had that budget…

So, we started last fall by transporting some tree stumps and cedar logs from J’s parents place in the forest to our urban backyard.  These were instant hits with the girls:



Who knew jumping on stumps was such fun?  Or that cedar logs made such great balance beams?  Amazing, natural and cheap.  We loved it.

Next we starting making a “hut” like structure out of tall, skinny tree branches (again from J’s parents place):


We used jute twine to tie the branches together forming a dome.  We added a door shape and a few windows on each side.  In the winter we cut up our evergreen tree (and a few of our friends) and wove the boughs through to give the structure form and privacy.

Hideoutbeforewith firepit

Here is what is looked like this summer.  We had placed the stumps in a semi-circle and moved out fire pit to the centre.  It has been a great spot for roasting marshmallows!  You can see the “finished” structure in the background after we had removed the old and dried out christmas branches and other yard waste the kids had woven in.  Next we removed the sod/grass in a circle around the play structure, added soil and planted beans with the idea being that they would grow over the branches and give cover that way.  Unfortunately, there was a heat wave while we were away for vacation this year and the beans didn’t really take.  We came home to a sad little wooden dome that was not much more than a bunch of dried out sticks.  Which is just as well since it was meant to be temporary (although we had hoped it would last through this season.  Since then the girls have hatched another plan anyways.  A bigger and more involved plan – a hideout!!

The have drawn designs, discussed various fort “must-haves” such as a lookout and a trap door.  The area behind the temporary dome seemed like a great space and so we went straight to work.  I can’t wait to show you the progress we are making on the much larger and more involved play structure in Part 2 of this series.  But for now you can ask friends and relatives for stumps and branches to get you started on building a natural playground for your kids…