Steven WellsHow to make a bush cubby or play house

Backyards are havens for children’s creative play and imaginative adventures and the humble cubby house is often the central hub of these activities. So here’s how to create a cubby or play house for a bush setting that could easily fit into any backyard.

Photo 1I recently had lots of fun building a couple of bush cubby houses, one was for my friend’s two young boys who absolutely love being outside and the other was for their local kindergarten. The best thing is that they’re really easy to make and provide hours of fun for the kids.

My friends live amongst the bush and they are always proudly boasting about the echidnas and all the types of birds that they see at their piece of paradise. They have rosellas, king parrots, rainbow lorikeets, kookaburras, hawks, magpies and owls. It really is a great place to spend time. So I thought that as a birthday present for the boys I would build them a bush cubby house that was camouflaged so that they could sit and watch these friendly visitors while being a little hidden. Another good reason was that I wanted to create a cubby house for them just because I knew how much I loved having a hidden cubby house in my backyard as a child and I knew these boys would love it too. After all, cubby houses are a great place for children to have fun playing together, role-playing or planning to conquer their neighbourhood or even the world.

So with a lot of excitement the boys and I got to work. Here’s how you can make one yourself.

1. Finding a good location

This cubby is a semi-permanent style, so you’ll need to find somewhere that you are happy to dig some holes into the ground about 20-25cm. Allow enough space for a 3m diameter. We chose a relatively flat spot in a small clearing that was close to their lawn and their bird feeding area.

2. Framework construction

Get yourself these items:
Six lengths (10mm x 75mm x 5.4m) of flexible hardwood garden timber edging
About 1 metre of fencing wire
Tree branches and good sized hardwood prunings (or anything similar)
A shovel
A pair of plyers

Mark out a 3m diameter circle on the ground. Dig a hole on one side of the circle, approximately 20-25cm deep, and another one on the opposite side of the circle. Take your first piece of timber garden edging and place it in the hole on one side, then bend it over to form an arch and place the other end into the opposite hole. While someone holds the arched edging in place fill the hole back in and push the soil down firmly to hold the arched edging in place. You should be able to let go of the timber now and it stays in place.

Digging holes for the kindergarten cubby

Digging holes for the kindergarten cubby

Repeat this process with each of the other pieces of timber edging, moving your way around the circle reasonably evenly making sure that the tops of the arches touch each other because this will add support and strength. You can either dig a deeper hole or shorten the lengths if they don’t touch each other. Remember that this is a bush cubby house, so they don’t need to be perfectly spaced, rustic is good!

Timber lengths crossing over each other at the apex

Timber lengths crossing over each other at the apex

As you are placing each new length to the circle you will need to make sure you keep a gap for the opening to the cubby house. To add extra support, once you have finished installing these lengths use the fencing wire to tie around the timber edging at the apex of the dome.

3. Seating

You can use a variety of things for seating. We chose to ‘borrow’ some firewood logs from the winter stockpile for seats because they were the perfect size for the boys. Perhaps a little too small for me, but I still tried them out!

Testing out the framework and making the entrance sign

Testing out the framework and making the entrance sign

Testing the seating … just like Goldilocks

Testing the seating … just like Goldilocks

4. Camouflage time

Personally I quite liked the look of the framework and I would have been happy to stop there to enjoy the beauty of the creation, but this wasn’t my art installation or cubby house! And besides, the boys were champing at the bit to get stuck into the fun bit for them – camouflaging and the creation of their new hiding space!

Branches over the framework

Branches over the framework

Essentially the plan is to cover the frame and make it look like one big bush! Any tree branches, sticks or hardwood prunings that you or your neighbours might have will be great. We made sure that we intertwined the branches as we added them to strengthen it and stop it from blowing off in the wind. For us the advantage of a being on a bush block meant that we had a good supply of fallen branches and unwanted shrubs to use.

5. Pathway

The boys were keen to have a pathway to get to the cubby from the lawn, so with some spare edging we created the entrance path by digging a slight trench for the edging and then bringing the soil back against the edging. Alternatively you could use some relatively straight branches.

Road-testing the new pathway

Road-testing the new pathway

6. Let the fun times begin……

Success … now we’re off to conquer the world!

My work was now done and the boys’ fun was just starting. After adding more branches, within no time the boys were sitting down together, planning the interior, planning future extensions and I’m sure I heard them planning something about world domination!


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Steven Wells

About Steven Wells

Steven has successfully combined his nursing and horticulture careers to be working as a nurse, a horticultural therapist and the gardens and grounds project officer at Austin Health in Melbourne. He studied horticulture at The University of Melbourne’s Burnley campus and is the 2012 ABC Gardening Australia ‘Gardener of the Year’. Having grown up on a market garden and orange orchard he has ‘green blood’ and is a keen gardener. He is passionate about sharing the benefits of gardening, horticultural therapy and people-plant connections.

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