Building a Living Teepee

A couple of weeks ago I managed to convince my son Tom, to give up his plastic Wendy house, which he hardly played with anymore, other than to take it apart to give it a ‘sun roof’.. and instead promised him we would build a den. I had thought about building a den made from Willow, which you plant in the ground and weave to create a living teepee, but I’m in the middle of working out what to do with the garden so wanted something a bit more temporary. So instead I decided to try out an idea I had seen on Pinterest – A frame made from bamboo, with climbing beans or peas climbing up. Except we’ve made it using Hazel, as we went to Yorkshire Hurdles last weekend (who make all kinds of amazing things out of Hazel and Willow – check them out on Instagram), and bought several sticks, cut to length so that Tom can walk in once they are pulled together into a teepee shape.

So on Saturday, when we had that one sunny day… we set about making a teepee, and this is how we did it….

1. First I marked out a circle with spray paint (you could use sand) and then removed the turf, leaving space for the door. This channel is where the Hazel sticks will go into the ground and where the beans will be planted. It’s about 20cm wide.

2. Next we dug over the soil and pulled out any weed roots. This is where I started to get Tom involved – he was of course interested in getting his hands into the mud and we used his dumper truck to help move the weeds.I planned to add compost to the soil at this point and then realised I didn’t have any (excellent organisation as usual). So instead I used some loamy soil from a turf stack* I have in the garden, to build up the soil, and I’ll add compost later.

*A turf stack is where you literally stack layers of dug up turf, and then leave it for as long as it takes for all the grass to die and break down (at least a year) – this creates a lovely crumbly, nutrient rich soil known as ‘loam’.

3. Now if you’re using Bamboo canes you won’t need to do this, as they’re not very broad, but with the Hazel, to make it easier to get them into the ground, I used an axe to sharpen the ends. Amazingly I didn’t lose any fingers or toes – it really IS amazing, based on my clumsiness and track record…

4. I then used a spade to create a wedge in the soil and hammered the sticks in with a mallet. Tom pushed the soil all around the base and used his bare feet to firm them in (always Health & Safety conscious here… )

5. Finally time to plant the beans. I chose Runner Beans and Dwarf French Beans. I didn’t intend to buy the dwarf variety, for obvious reasons, but that was all they had available in the shop!I planted 2-3 at the base of each stick, and tied wire around the sticks at 3 intervals up the teepee, to give the beans extra support to cling on to.

6. While we were planting, there were predators circling overhead, waiting for our backs to turn, ready to swoop… or rather there were pigeons, lazily eyeing up the beans while sunbathing on a bench. So the tinfoil came out and I tied it around the wire and on short canes placed around the circle. Tom then moved it all and added A LOT more…

7. Then we stood back and took photos of our masterpiece! Finished! I may add some additional canes and plants some Sweet Peas to grow up as well, we’ll see. Primarily I’m just hoping the pigeon deterrents work and there is enough summer left for the beans to grow up the canes. I’m not very experienced with growing veg, so I’m intrigued to see how the beans grow – any tips let me know… I have romantic ideas of Tom sitting in the teepee, picking beans off and tasting them, I’ll let you know if that image materialises…!

So my idea of a rustic teepee turned into Tom’s tinfoil clad Spaceship – Rocket.. but that’s what it’s all about right?! Just look at that happy face….

If you would like to see live action videos of Tom and I making the teepee, then head over to my facebook page, where you can also find regular updates as my life as a working gardener. You can also find me on instagram

Have you enjoyed reading this How To? Let me know! I’d love to hear from you – let me know if you’d like to know how to do any other things in the garden by hitting the Contact Me button and I’ll get Tom on it!

Until next time, Happy Gardening x

Out of the Fog and into the Garden – How I became a Gardener

I wrote this blog when it was National Gardening Week and Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week.
So for me, it was an obvious time to tell you about how these two worlds collided for me 3 years ago.

When I became pregnant, I couldn’t have been happier – I had always wanted to be a Mum, and with a lovely partner I felt incredibly lucky. Tom was the most gorgeous happy baby and we had a strong bond. But when I look back on that first 9 months, it shouldn’t have been a surprise that I developed post-natal depression. Like so many, the birth was difficult. The first two weeks were horrendous for a number of reasons – I still look back on them with horror 4 years later. Breast feeding was so painful, but I persevered. Tom had reflux. I had painful tendonitis in my wrists. Sleep was awful – I was lucky if I got 2 hours together. Over the months, my relationship gradually broke down – I think having a baby can magnify the cracks in your relationship and unfortunately we weren’t able to heal them. But I met friends, went to classes and genuinely loved being a Mum to Tom.

Then when Tom was around 10 months old I started to have worrying intrusive thoughts – “I can’t cope”, “I want to take Tom and run away from everyone” and then as it neared Tom’s first birthday I stopped breastfeeding and things really started to go downhill. I had periods of immense sadness that I couldn’t explain. I kept repeatedly telling myself, “I’m going crazy”. I told one friend this and she suggested I could have PND, but I convinced myself that I just needed to go back to work.
So I did. Looking back I realise now that those 4 weeks I was back at work my anxiety was disproportionately high and I was swinging from feeling desperate and low at home, to being almost high at work and socially.

Then one day it all came falling down. I called my Health Visitor from work and she arranged to visit me the next day. I told her everything that was going on in my head and she was amazing. She said she thought I had PND and immediately called my GP and arranged an appointment that afternoon for me to see them. The GP prescribed me antidepressants.

I thought that was it. I’d be fine in a couple of weeks and after the weekend I went into work. I explained the situation to my manager who is also a good friend and she kindly asked me if I should really be at work, at which point I fell apart, gathered my stuff, got out of the office as fast as I could and didn’t return for 6 months.

The time that followed was dark and difficult. But I was lucky – medication gradually worked, I had amazing support from my family and my partner was kind and supportive. I was also very lucky in that I had the most brilliant Health Visitor; she was a lifeline.

So how does this all relate to gardening? Well during those months, my garden became my escape. When I felt up to it, I would work – I found the methodical process of weeding out bindweed roots would stop me thinking about anything else and would make me feel like I’d achieved something. When I was feeling so low I couldn’t bring myself to do anything, I would often just stand and stare at the plants. It lifted some of the darkness. Then as I started to feel better, I started to enjoy the physical side of gardening. I started to have a bit more appetite again and I realised I wanted to be outside more. I dreaded the thought of being in an office all day, in a stressful job (I was an Adult Safeguarding Social Worker) – I wanted to do something creative with my hands.
Then it got to the point where I was well enough to go back to work, on a phased return and reduced hours. As anyone who has had a period off work will know, that first day is really, really hard. And as anyone who has had a mental health problem will know, you worry about people not believing you or about them seeing you differently. Everyone was kind, but my God, it was hard. I left feeling low, like that cloud was forming over me again. I went to Marks & Spencer to get a ready-meal for dinner – the only way to make sure I ate. I was in the queue in a dark fog. Then I started to hear the conversation in front of me. The man on the cash desk was talking to the customer, who used to be his gardener, about the difficulty in finding someone new. I heard him say “The problem is no-one wants to be on their hands and knees weeding for 4 hours” and I heard myself say, “I do”.
For some reason people often think I’m confident, but I’m not – I get very anxious, particularly in social situations. So I said those words, felt my heart beating hard in my chest and my cheeks go red, but he took me seriously; he took my number and gave it to his partner and she rang me and gave me a job. That leap of faith Andrew and Isabelle took in employing me was the start, and I’ll always be grateful to them.

From there, I got another job a few doors down, then another, then another. I did an RHS Horticulture course, started a Diploma in Garden Design, approached and won a contract for a city centre garden, then last summer I resigned from my job to do gardening full time. I also went on a Social and Therapeutic Horticulture course, with the leading charity in this area, Thrive.
It’s not a secret – in fact it’s all over the media – gardening is just so beneficial for your mental health, whether you are dealing with a mental health issue, or whether you simply recognise you need to look after your mental health.
I’m fortunate in that I consider myself recovered from my period of depression, but I still struggle with anxiety. I therefore recognise the need for me to be aware of my mental health in the decisions I make – I don’t think that’s particular to my circumstance, I think it’s the same for everyone, but not everyone realises it.
I now want to help other people realise the enjoyment they can have in gardening, whether that’s through helping them understand their own garden, making it manageable for them, or redesigning it so it becomes the haven that everyone’s garden can be. Charlotte is a Gardener and Garden Designer. You can contact her at