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Plant Playhouse

Home-building materials are certainly too expensive for a kids' garden club. But not if the "building materials" are living plants, grown from seed! You can make a unique and memorable plant playhouse by sowing garden giants that kids love to grow, and letting them make a fort or playhouse out of the green structure.

One sure way to encourage observation of plant growth and parts up close is to build a house out of them. Unlike a teepee, a plant house does not require poles. The walls are composed of the plants themselves

The best choices are tall plants such as corn, hollyhocks, or sunflowers.

Here's a how-to:

1. Design the layout. Have students design the layout of the house. It can be any shape they desire - who says it has to be square or rectangular? It can have multiple rooms if there's enough growing space. Allow for a 3-foot-wide entrance, and some space for doorways between "rooms."

2. Sow the walls. Now, there's something you don't hear every day! This means that, as usual, you should loosen up and cultivate the soil where the seeds for the house's walls will grow. Scrape the outline of each room into the soil, add a little compost or well-rotted manure, and plant seeds to the appropriate depth. Water and weed the patch as the plants grow.

3. Prepare a nice "floor." If you expect students to spend some time inside the playhouse, it would be nice to lay down some black plastic, topped by clean straw, as "carpet" to make their time inside more enjoyable, and also to cut down on weeds.

4. Make some shade. You can create a "roof" on your house by training climbing vines such as runner beans or morning glories up the tall plants that are forming the "walls." When the "roof" plants reach the top, connect strings to the tops of one row of plants to those on the opposite wall. Train the vines to crawl across the top.

5. Consider reinforcements. If you live in an area with high winds and thunderstorms in the summertime, a bit of "insurance" so that the plant playhouse isn't toppled by them is to sink an 8' plastic-coated metal pole about a foot deep in every corner, and tie jute string from one pole to the other, collecting the plants that are part of the "walls" as you go.

Don't forget to take a picture of your gardeners enjoying their creation. Remember . . . there's no place like home, and there'll be no place like this green, living home in their childhood memory banks.

By Susan Darst • Projects 09 © 2011

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