Secret Playgarden Day

January 7th, 2011

Hidden somewhere inside the the quirky barn on our property is a place that was labeled ten years ago by little boys playing spy games.

And I do mean little boys.  Joseph was six and a half when we moved here, Daniel was turning five, Joshua was three and a half.

If you look would walk around this corner and look verrrrrry closely, you would see that hidden inside this building is CELL 05-10.

A hundred years ago it housed pigs on the bottom floor and chickens on the top floor.  Or so we were told by Joe’s grandmother, who lived on this property for nearly all her adult life.

Half of that top floor rotted, so it was removed, leaving a loft over half the room.

Four years ago, CELL 05-10 was a damp, dark and dirty three hundred square feet, only useful for storing things that could stand to get dusty.  It was too hot in the summer, too cold in the winter and had an uneven and slanted concrete floor.

These heavy “windows” swing up and in, apparently to provide needed ventilation.  Pigs, you know…chickens…

Looking back toward the doorway…

The stone wall that surrounds the room…

…the floor…

From up on the loft looking down onto scaffolding and the floor below…

…chickens up here…pigs down there…I can see it…

A hot tin roof…

The very small Joshua of three years ago looking out the door off the loft…

Do you dare to enter such a place?

Our children wanted us to leave the exterior alone, so nobody would guess that inside it…

…is now…

…our Secret Garden Playroom!

Come in, come in!  Take off your shoes and hang up your jacket!

This room was built using materials that were given to us, found on Freecycle and at the Habitat For Humanity Re-Store, thrift stores, and returned paint sections of hardware stores…

…plus some materials that were bought new with Joe’s discount…

…or in the case of the sweet birch tree trunk, found lying in a corner of the barn–materials that we already had on hand.

All these materials, plus ingenuity, time, and teamwork.  And there’s still space left for creativity to bloom.

This tool shed houses the toys, as well as a few other things you’ll see later…

The perfect reading spot for a sunny winter’s afternoon…

It would be very difficult for the little ones to get up to the tree house loft if the gate is closed.  They are not allowed up there at all, with or without older siblings.  The loft is strictly for the five oldest children.

Looking up at the tree house~

The tree trunk is not the support here.  Joe installed a steel girder under the edge of this loft.


And down at the doorway.  The lighting is wonky because I took some pictures during the day and some the next night.

Joshua is the resident expert on growing things and has long experience with drawing them as well.  We knew we could trust him with this work.

The sweet birch tree that sprouts from the tree trunk Joe “planted” here…

[“Didn’t my son Joshua do a fantastic job,” his mother smiled.]

Since the window looks right out onto the road, we needed privacy for the evenings.

I spy a little insect friend hiding in the corner…

The lamp is positioned to provide light for the ones who want to curl up with a good book after dark.

Hmmmm, what sort of animal lives in this hole?

A little pet named Sony, that obligingly sings many kinds of music for us…tells stories, too…

Inside the tool shed…pet Sony, plus building blocks, matchbox cars, plastic animals, rubber band shooters, CDs and cassette tapes, some Thornton Burgess books, play tunnels and tents…and a third telephone that we can use as an intercom with the telephones in the house…

The tree house ladder…

“You should come up and see!”

Across the tree house floor from the top of the ladder…

(Yes, you saw that castle downstairs, and no, we don’t own two of them.  You can do neat tricks like that with cameras!)

Joshua’s butterfly and moth collection…

…the door that you saw to your left up on the wall, as you approached the barn from the outside.  It is nice for sitting on the edge and swinging your feet when the weather is warm…

…and the clock that is positioned to be seen from the loveseat downstairs…

This doorway leads up into the main part of the barn.

…a whitetail deer antler Joshua found in the woods…

Sitting on the steps under the antler and looking back toward the gate.   The small pieces are one reason the little boys may not come up here.

(That castle was a nifty $10 thrift store find we gave the children this Christmas.)

The little “lip” at the edge of the tree house floor is to prevent small pieces from raining down onto those below.

Speaking of below…no, the mini-trampoline is not positioned there for daredevils.  (Thank you again to the family who anonymously gave this wonderful gift to our children last spring!  I hope that you see this, and know that it is being thoroughly enjoyed!)

Eeeek.  That floor does look pretty far down there though…

…which is why Joe made sure the railings were as tall and sturdy as they come.  They are this high on Joshua.  He is 6 feet, 1 and 1/2 inches.  Yes, at thirteen years of age.

He painted the sweet birch while kneeling on a scaffold.

Looking out the loft window back toward the house.  We have an old air conditioner waiting for this window when the summer heat comes.

Those woods you see yonder can beat out our secret playgarden room every day that the weather beckons.  God made them, you see.  But we are so grateful for this three hundred whimsical and practical square feet of living space for the other days.


After we gave the paint a full week to dry, today we celebrated with an indoor garden party, complete with cupcakes, lemonade, and Bach’s Brandenburg concerti.

Here they come!  This will be the first time the little ones see their new play space since Joshua finished painting!


*knock, knock, knock*  Hey you guys, look this way!




Little Miss’s face after being snatched from her bed and stuffed into a snowsuit~

Happy dad, happy mom~

Is it time to eat yet?

Ya, well.  A little sugar…

One of the last things I see before I head in to tuck Verity into bed and pump~


From the outside, the foot-swinging place.

(Brrrrr, mom!  Can we close it again?)

So if you stop in some day, and nobody seems to be home, check CELL 05-10.  I mean…


[Pssssst!  Hey there!  Joe and Susanna!  “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give good things to those that ask Him?”]

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28 Responses to “Secret Playgarden Day”

  1. Wow!!!!  What a neat place!!  Great job and I know many happy memories will be made there and such happy days spent there.  :)

  2. Misty says:

    So very cool!  My girls are ready to move in =)

  3. Marilyn Osborn says:

    Sometimes when I click on your blog, I’ll think to myself…”she won’t have anything new today…” and when you do, I get SO excited!  Isn’t that funny?!  This post made my heart swell with joy and excitement!  God IS so GOOD!  That room is JUUUST precious and I’m so happy for you!  I shared your ‘testimony’ today with someone and it was a blessing…just wanted you to know. love you..M

  4. sabrina says:

    How fun! Reading this post was like a visit with your family. Thanks for inviting us to your Playroom Party! Loved it! I love the pic of Verity on big brothers lap with her hands together. So cute!

  5. Denise says:

    I’m speachless– that is AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    What a LOT of fun to be had there!!!!!

    That is really neat!!!


  6. Danielle M. says:

    OHHH! I want one of those!! How wonderful to have a great place to play.  My guys have been talking about your barn, and playroom for a while now.  Maybe next visit they can play!! So excited for you.  It would be very hard to drag the boys away from that castle though-what a great toy. 

  7. JenK says:

    That is such an amazing play area!  Probably the best I’ve ever seen!

  8. Vicki says:

    I can’t believe that is what that barn looks like now!  You have put a lot of work into that room.  I wouldn’t even recognize it anymore.  I am so glad you posted the first couple of pictures, too, because is was such fun reminiscing about the days when six cousins would get together and play in that old barn.  (Ask Joe if he remembers jumping out of that foot swinging spot.)  I hadn’t thought about that for years!  Although we had some great times in there, I’m sure your children will have even more in their new playroom.  Thanks for sharing!

  9. alice says:

    just in case I never said so before…you are all really amazing! :-)

  10. Ilisa says:

    Thank you for sharing!  We (I have 6 siblings) had a cabin and I kept picturing my family in there!  It is awesome!  We too loved the woods…anywhere to play really.  Fun post :)

  11. Susanna says:

    Vicki, he remembers LOTS of fun times! I’ve heard some stories! (Getting from one bedroom to another via windows and porch roof! :lol: ) And yes, for that kind of play, our children still have the horse stalls, the cold cellar and the room that’s in, plus the big part of the barn with its two platforms, AND the whole woods! We really are so blessed–this is just the right property for rearing a bunch of children! It seems to have some of everything we would want and none of what we don’t (like a pond or other drowning hazard)!

  12. Susanna says:

    Thank you, everybody!  Our children are such hard workers that it gives me great pleasure to provide this space for them!  And I think a big part of the older children’s enjoyment is how hard THEY worked on it themselves!

  13. Angiedawn says:

    Wow! That is absolutely AMAZING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  14. Jessica (janns) says:

    Very neat!! I’m enjoying thinking about all the special times your family will have there. The art work is beautiful! At first, I thought, “How did she have time to do that?” How neat that your son painted it. Good job!! :)

  15. Joy Horton says:

    Wowwwwwwwwwww!!!! I definitely prefer it the Secret Playgarden way!! What a transformation!

  16. Lara Font says:

    Susanna, I am so amazed!  I want one of those too!  What a wonderful gift and such talented older sibs!  Blessings!

  17. allison h (christianmomoflots) says:

    That is so amazing!! Now I have some ideas for our pole building and that means I must get off my lazy bottom!! LOL!  We have been wanting to have a spot where our DC could get out of the house but not leave the property. Thanks for posting this!

  18. Tami Ann says:

    Great job everyone!  Team work within a family, what a treasure!  Common goal, everyone pitching in…now reaping the benefits TOGETHER…all wonderful (now if the family of God could work in this fashion!)

  19. Martha says:

    What a great place!!! Good job!

  20. Gina Wood says:

    What an awesome play area, but more than that, thanks for sharing it so beautifully. I felt like I was experiencing it with you, loving the obvious love, warmth, and smiles.

  21. Anna T says:

    WOW!!  What an incredible place to play, learn and grow!!  You have LOTS of talent in your family Susanna!!  It was great to “see” Miss V in one of the pictures eating without the “extras” — yea!!  Enjoy your “get away”!!  I’m continuing to pray for you and your family!!  Yes, God does give very good gifts — woo, hoo!! 

    I wanted to let you know that I shared your blog post on “If Your Child is going to have Heart Surgery” on BBC today.  Thanks for putting that post together, it’s very helpful for mommies that are getting ready.

  22. Rebecca ~asplendidtime says:

    So amazing! Wow!

  23. Stephanie Blanchard says:

    I love it!

  24. Jillian says:

    I am shaking my head. I cannot believe how amazing that is!!! I am giddy that you have been so blessed with such a special addition! How fun for your children! :D

  25. Anna says:

    What a great space!!!!!!

    I’m somewhat of a lurker — am absolutely in love with your Katie, and am now looking through your archives to see the story of her transformation in your life. One note of housekeeping: through some of these older blog entries, there are pics interspersed of Katie! This one in particular is haunting, with the opening lines about something hidden ten years prior in the barn, and then a close-up of the little miss’ face.

    Is this just something I am seeing? or a database mixup perhaps?

    hugs and love to your wonderful family. 

  26. Susanna says:

    Thank you so much for letting us know, Anna! Eeeek, I hope this isn’t happening all through the blog! For now, I just removed those pics, and I’ll need Joseph’s help to figure out how to restore it to its original state. Thanks again for the heads up!

  27. molly b says:

    Oh I LOVE this!!!!!!  What a special place for the kids!

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