Landscape Architecture Students Build Nature Playhouses for Santa Barbara Botanic Gardens

From climbing over rocks and looking underneath logs for critters to building tree forts and a world of make-believe, children’s curiosity blossoms in the natural world. That’s why students and faculty from the landscape architecture program at Colorado State University tapped into their inner child when drafting their plans for the Backcountry Casita design competition hosted by the Santa Barbara Botanic Gardens in California.

These Backyard Casitas, or nature playhouses, are unique, temporary structures built with natural materials like rocks or fallen tree branches found nearby. The CSU designs, “Trolling Trees” and “Be a BEE Habitat,” are two of the five designs selected from the gardens’ public call for applicants. Once selected, the CSU group traveled to California to bring their designs to life. Those involved include landscape architecture students Natalie Leyva, Parker Cahill, Taya Loran and Megan McGregor, associate professor of landscape architecture Kelly Curl, and retired landscape architecture professor Joe McGrane.

Trolling Trees

Submitted by Leyva, this Backyard Casita was inspired by the mystical tales of trolls and the native trees of Santa Barbara, California. The friendly-faced troll is constructed of wire mesh filled with rocks, logs and tree branches.

Be a BEE Habitat

Submitted by Curl, this Backyard Casita invites children to imagine themselves as bees and inhabit the human-scale pollinator home by climbing up and through the logs. The play structure is designed to educate children about bee nesting and the benefits of native pollinator gardens.