Kids love secret places, hidden places to call their own. Inside the house, blankets, pillows, and a few chairs for anchor disappear into a corner of the room, along with your child and a few favorite friends (real or imaginary). When the weather brightens a bit, and it is time to move the operation outside, you can offer your child some assistance beyond weaving sticks together. But, honestly, it does not have to be much more complicated than that to build an awesome outdoor hideaway that a castaway pirate or princess could seriously hunker down in.
I take my inspiration from this kit by Magic Cabin, that is, unfortunately, no longer available: http://www.magiccabin.com/Gardening-With-Children/GardenFort.htm
The good news is that you can build something like this (or maybe nothing like this for the advanced designers who want to, uh, “branch out”) in a short time and on the cheap. One way to do this is build the fort using concrete reinforcing mesh. The nice thing about the mesh is that it is sturdy enough to support itself, and you can shape it to be just about any fort shape you can imagine.
Concrete reinforcing mesh is available at most lumber stores. It comes in 7 foot by 3.5 foot sections. Here’s how to build a super simple fort to start.
Take two sheets of mesh. Lay one on the ground and walk on the mesh. Pull up one end as you are standing on the mesh and bend. Repeat with the second section. Take the two ends and put the wire ends through the grid on the other sheet. Bend the wire over to connect the sheets together. Carry what should now be an arch. Stick the wire ends into the ground to set the sides of the fort. Reinforce with garden stakes as needed. Bend one more mesh sheet and connect one of the open ends creating the back of the fort. Secure just like the sides. Now you are ready to plant.
First decide if you want this structure to be permanent or seasonal. For the perennial set, try akebia, honeysuckle, clematis, or grape vines. If you want to change it up year over year, you can plant climbing pea and bean vines or if you don’t mind battling potential invasiveness but want a green fort in a hurry, try Morning Glory. You can also cover your structure with burlap for some immediate fort fun while you wait for slower growing vines.
The first time you embark on this project, your child will likely be thrilled with whatever structure you guys come up with. But for the future architects out there, the sky is the limit. For the older child, have them sketch out their ideas and then attempt to realize them in wire mesh. Structures with right angles have their obvious advantages but rolling the mesh into tall tubes could result in a pretty cool garden castle. Just be sure you have your own backyard hideaway too because these forts also come with the “no adults allowed” sign.