Every child should have a tree house. A place that’s yours alone. Your mom can’t tell you to tidy your tree house – it’s not her jurisdiction. Right of admission reserved. If you want to escape kids from school, an irritating sibling or a strict parent, you simply pull up the rope ladder.
The rope ladder! It’s the tree house equivalent of a draw bridge over a moat.
I’m a bit of a tree house expert. Before I was even of school-going age, my best friend and neighbour Willie van Tonder and I built a small platform in a tree. This platform turned into a decade-long construction project, resulting in a seven-storey tree house with running water, power, a fireplace and a lift.
Here’s how you build a tree house.
Choose the right tree
The thing that gets in the way of most kids having their own tree house is not a lack of will or a lack of building materials, but the lack of a suitable tree. It can’t be any old tree, it has to be a tree house tree.
The bigger, the better. You want a tree with potential for vertical and horizontal expansion, but there are a few other factors to keep in mind…
I grew up in Ladismith in the Little Karoo. One of the benefits of growing up in the rural parts of South Africa is that you have access to a big yard. Like many other houses in Ladismith, we had a front garden with a lawn and rose bushes, and a backyard with fruit trees, a cement irrigation dam and a vegetable garden.
The first tree that Willie and I chose for our tree-house project was a fig tree on my property. Although it had a thick trunk, there wasn’t a lot of space in the canopy for the house. And each time one of us broke a twig, we’d be covered in white, sticky sap.
Next, we tried the bottlebrush tree in the front garden. It had strong, widespread branches – perfect for a platform, the foundation of your tree house. But a bottlebrush has rough bark. During the construction phase, you’ll spend a lot of time clinging to branches: rough bark and soft skin don’t go together. Even worse, however, were its red flowers that attracted swarms of bees.
We had to admit – there wasn’t a suitable tree at my house. Willie’s dad was the local dominee and it was on the sacred grounds of the parsonage next door that we found the right tree – a big syringa. Not only did it have enough room for our tree house, but the bark was smooth, the branches were strong and there were no other residents that wished us harm.
Building materials and tools
A childhood friend built a tree house on their smallholding outside Ladismith using reeds. Reeds! Let them bake in the sun for a few weeks and your floor will fall apart.
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