© 2017 Gardens By Colleen. All rights reserved.

by Colleen O’Neill Nice

Last summer, I worked with craftsman, Ricardo Rivera, to design and build an arbor to traverse my woodland path. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Rivera has a passion for building tree houses (see accompanying photos) and owns a small, local family business, Buffalo Tree House (buffalotreehouse.com). Founded in 2009, he has been creating unique, custom designs for clients throughout the Western New York area. According to Rivera, “Everything we build is a one of a kind work of art designed to be an extension of our client’s personalities and living spaces."

Rivera listened intently to my objectives for my woodland structure, then walked through my garden to get a feel for the surroundings. When I received a sketch from Rivera the next day, I was elated. Not only did the design include the use of cedar shingles imitating the details of my birdhouse near the path, but it also echoed the painted white wood of our house trim. It was the perfect design, and added a unique focal point amongst the towering hemlocks, graceful ostrich ferns and snowy-white columbine. So after my arbor was installed, I got to thinking about a treehouse.

With tree houses all the rage, why not design a custom space to float high above my garden? After all, a view from above is the ultimate gardeners experience. If you have ever traveled to Sissinghurst Castle in England and climbed the numerous stone steps to the top of the Elizabethan tower, you know what I am talking about. The view of the spectacular themed garden rooms is breathtaking, not to mention the 450 acres of the estate surrounding the gardens.

When I visited Longwood Gardens last summer, I toured three tree houses built in the Forest Walk. Using a new technology called a pin foundation system, the tree houses were built without damaging tree limbs or roots. The dwellings ranged in size and scope from simple to elaborate, using mostly reclaimed materials.

Since my husband and I live in a ranch style house, I have no second floor views. The closest I‘ve gotten to viewing my garden from above was from my neighbor’s second floor window across the street. It was a sunny spring morning and the yellow daffodils and orange tulips created pools of color, shockingly bright. The many shades of green of the trees, shrubs, ferns and ground covers contrasted with the ephemeral blooms. My garden looked like an artist’s palette embedded with textures and patterns. Unfortunately, I could never have this experience on flat ground.

So I designed a fantasy treehouse in my head. Three levels would suffice. The first story would be my workspace for writing and editing photos. Wifi would be a must. The second level would be an open platform surrounded by railings on all four sides for viewing my garden, taking pictures and hanging out with the birds and squirrels. The third level would be my quiet space – roomy enough for a yoga mat and some pillows. I could relax and rejuvenate after a long day in the garden. Of course, I would share my treehouse with my grandchildren when they came to visit. On second thought, I may need to scale back my dream retreat to one level. I have a fear of heights.

Colleen O’Neill Nice is an avid gardener in Clarence, New York and specializes in fern propagation.

Photo, above: This treetop playhouse located in Orchard Park, New York is sandwiched between a robust Quercus alba (white oak) and a lofty Acer saccharinum (silver maple). Designed specifically for children, the “Copper Tower” encompasses 90 square feet with a rope ladder, a secret entry point and a covered hammock. It’s finest feature is a fifteen foot high look-out tower that has a 360 degree view of the entire neighborhood. A great spot to utilize a telescope or some binoculars!

Photo by Joe Janiak, Ramble Photography.

Photo, above:  The “Spiral Cabin” is perched on a Populus fremontii (cottonwood). The cabin was constructed from eight hemlock logs and includes fully functional windows and doors. The interior consists of fold-out benches that convert into sleeping cots. This rustic retreat embraces 170 square feet of relaxation space.

Photo, left: A 40 foot long bridge, elevated above the woodland floor, leads to the spiral staircase. Photo, below: Encircling a neighboring tree, the spiral staircase features posts and spindles fashioned from saplings that were cut down to clear the path for the bridge.

Photos by Buffalo Tree House LLC

Photo, above: Inspiration for the "Cedar Silo" came from a recycled cage ladder that was originally attached to a grain silo. It was purchased from a seller on craigslist. Hidden archer windows on the lower level can be used to protect this 160 square foot play space. Outside balconies on both the upper and lower levels make perfect viewing platforms for wildlife. Photo, right: Constructed around a majestic Pinus strobus (white pine), the interior boasts two stories, an indoor ladder and a trap door. Located in East Aurora, New York, this unique tree house was designed for

a father and son.

Photos by Joe Janiak,

Ramble Photography.

Photo, above: Created for four energetic children, the “Foursome Fort” rises eleven feet off the ground with the support of a Pinus strobus (white pine). This lodging includes a covered deck, rope ladders and custom cargo net. The slanted roof and quirky window add a whimsical touch. Inside, 70 square feet allow for ample play space. The fort-owners are located in Amherst, New York.

Photo by Buffalo Tree House LLC.

Photo, above: "The Pentagon" rests amongst the branches of an Acer saccharinum (silver maple) on a farm in Kendall, New York. Inspired by surrounding barns, the base was constructed of rough sawn lumber and sits twelve feet off the ground. The corrugated steel roof rises to a towering height of twenty-eight feet. The 56 square foot interior includes fully functional windows and a trap door. A rear outside deck is perfect for enjoying the farmland views.

Photo, right: Inside, a timber frame supports the five-sided

cathedral ceiling.

Photos by Buffalo Tree House LLC.