Bamboo fascinates Jennifer Kelley. She also enjoys the sounds of chimes.
She turned to those favorites when she designed an artistic treehouse for a classroom assignment in her first-year architecture studies at Hampton University in Hampton, Va.
"I wanted something fun, something the kids could walk through and make sounds," said Kelley, of Norfolk.
Her creation, called "Chimes," is one of 11 interactive treehouses in the Treemendous Treehouses display running through Oct. 3 at Norfolk Botanical Garden. The idea has been used at botanical gardens in Atlanta, Nashville, and Kansas City, Mo.
Before you go thinking these treehouses are fancy wooden forts with secret trap doors built high above the ground, wake up your imagination.
Professional and student artists, architects and designers went wild and unconventional with these concepts. Most are built near or on the ground, but all depend on trees for their uniqueness.
And no secret codes are needed to enter any of these treehouses. All are meant to give you some hands-on experience or at least guide you into fantasyland.
To produce "Chimes," Kelley used three hollow steel rings that were 16, 10 and four feet in diameter with more than 300 bamboo poles suspended on them. The rings of bamboo are hung by natural rope from a sweet gum tree. The treehouse is actually a maze that makes music when you walk through it.
Kelley's 11-year-old daughter, Catherine, spent about 80 hours drilling holes into each of the poles and cutting them to exact lengths that range from seven to 11 feet long. The bamboo poles were then wired onto the rings.
"We worked on bamboo for two weeks," said Kelley, who spent about 120 hours on the project. "It really had to be exact."
At the 85-foot-long pirate ghost ship called "Shiver Me Timbers," sky-high loblolly pines double as masts for the cloth sails. You can climb aboard the ship or check to see if the life-size skeleton is really guarding a treasure chest filled with jewels and silver. The ship is constructed from treated and exotic woods. Costumed pirates swung swords and battled it out during opening-day events.
"Gears" is an interactive sculpture meant to bring the term "treehouse" to life. Levers and pulleys attached to a southern red oak allow you to turn a crank to see what happens.
When you take the footpath to the treehouse called "Magic," you are surrounded by the whimsy of 50-foot-long swaths of gauze in bright gold, purple, blue, orange and magenta. You can't reach the swings high in the air, but you can sit on benches below and imagine yourself climbing onto the outstretched branches of the big white oak.
For more information, call the Norfolk Botanical Garden at 757-441-5830 or see www.norfolkbotanicalgarden.org.