Last updated on October 23rd, 2023 at 08:24 pm
The gardening year had just begun and I was literally itching to get started again. In our beautiful garden we have a lot of sun, which is of course really great for the vegetable and herb plants. But in high summer it can be almost too much sun. Especially if you have a toddler running around in the garden like I do. So a shade would be great. However, we want our garden to be as plastic-free and natural as possible. Of course there are many ways to create artificial shade, but I found the idea of a “natural” shelter much more appealing. A willow teepee not only creates a natural shady spot, it is also a great retreat for your favourite little ones, where they can take a little afternoon nap. People are not the only ones who benefit from a willow tipi: it provides endangered bees and bumblebees with their first source of food very early in the year.
Building time and materials for a willow tipi
Early spring is the most suitable time to build a willow tipi. This is the period from mid-February to the end of March. But you can also start building after that, depending on the ground frost and the weather. Only not in midsummer, as it is simply too hot and the willow rods would not grow.
I did some research and realised already during the planning stage that it was not so easy to procure the material for the willow tipi. Willows are protected by law because they are the first source of food for bees. That’s right, and you shouldn’t just cut down willow rods somewhere in nature without asking. After a few phone calls to a few gardeners and friends in the area, I found what I was looking for. I was allowed to cut willow rods along a stream from a friend’s private property. In view of the fact that the willows are not destroyed but allowed to continue growing in another place, the interference with nature is justifiable.
I recommend that you simply ask at the green cuttings office in your region, at tree nurseries or large garden centres. You are sure to find enough building material there.
Preparing the construction of the willow tipi
First of all, I chose a place in the garden where the tepee has enough space and is not in the immediate vicinity of a vegetable patch. Willows are moisture-loving plants and can draw a lot of water from the soil once they have grown. Our garden borders on a wet forest edge, so there is enough water in the soil to sustain the plants in summer.
The first step is to stake out the soil in the desired size. I decided on a diameter of 2 metres. This way, mum can also sit in the tepee to read an exciting book. To draw an even circle, I simply stuck a stick with a string into the ground and went around the stick with a radius of one metre and marked the circle with a spade.
Then it’s time to dig a trench with the spade. It is best to always cut small square pieces out of the lawn. Set these sods aside. Depending on the density of the soil, this can be quite a sweaty job. In any case, you should dig deep enough, because the willows need enough soil around them to root well. A depth of 25-30 cm should be sufficient. Leave the entrance of the tipi free. I chose a width of 80 cm, so there is enough space to slip in and out.
Setting the willow rods correctly for the tipi
Now the willow rods come into play. I planted the rods about 20 cm apart and needed about 25 rods for this. With this number you will achieve a certain stability of the tipi. The length of the rods should be at least 2.50 m. As soon as you have put all the rods into the ground and brought the sod back in, the tips of the rods, i.e. the roof, can be shaped and tied together with string or wire. You can form a pointed or round roof. I found the shape of a dome very appealing. Round shapes radiate a lot of harmony and can be found everywhere in nature. I also made the entrance a round shape with two arches, thus forming a flowing transition to the large dome.
For more stability you can weave a few remaining or too short rods into the tepee. Either straight at the bottom end or running diagonally upwards. This makes the little house even cosier and more secure.
Now you should give the willow rods a good watering. It is best to water abundantly every other day for the first two weeks.
A few tips and ideas for your willow tipi
In the first year, the tepee will not yet be so densely overgrown. That is why I have planted a few sweet pea seeds. The tipi is a perfect place for the pea because it has an ideal climbing support. Besides, the willow tepee dweller always has something to snack on within reach. You can also plant climbing nasturtiums or similar non-toxic climbing plants. Please do not use beans, they are highly poisonous even when eaten raw in small quantities.
Round, large river stones inside the tepee make a great finishing touch. We collected them bit by bit during walks along the local stream.
In any case, there are a few sods left over. These can either be put on the compost, lawn side down, or used to fill a raised bed.