I first learnt willow-weaving at the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) in Machynlleth, Wales. I spent a happy 9 months there in 1998 as a site maintenance volunteer which suited my ‘Jack-of-all-trades’ character. My role involved doing anything from maintaining the reed beds which treated the sewage, putting up signs on the visitor circuit, to pruning the orchard, cleaning solar panels and wind turbines, making compost, feeding chickens and pigs, to building arches and fences from living willow. The latter got me hooked on willow-weaving.
From then on I was hooked on creating with willow
After studying, volunteering and working abroad for several years I settled down on the family farm in Kent and got a job as a conservation officer with Kent County Council . In this job I got plenty of opportunity to practice willow-weaving. I remember making plant supports with young asylum seekers who came to our nature reserves weekly. One young man from Afghanistan didn’t want to follow my instructions and instead made a curved-based basket for carrying food, based on what they used in the mountain region where he had lived. I also spent many hours weaving little bird feeders or stars or Christmas wreaths with children and families.
Stepping up a level…
I stepped up a level when Mum and I went on a 2-day basketry and willow-weaving course with John Waller at Bore Place. From then I made log baskets and a laundry basket (that I still use 20 years later) and little hedgerow baskets with ash handles. When Jen and I set up Blooming Green in 2008, one of the first things we made to sell were Christmas wreaths on a willow base. We used willow as an environmentally friendly alternative to sphagnum moss on a wire base.
Growing our own willow
We now have a productive patch of multi-coloured willow which we planted in the middle of the flower plot. There is something very mindful about working with willow; you can feel the fibres within the stem as you bend it and can decide how firm you need to be. If you’re making a wreath, the key is not to kink the willow — whereas for basketry you need to get the willow to kink in the right place around the uprights.
If you would like to learn how to make your own willow-wigwam with Bek, we are running a workshop on Saturday March 11, from 101m-til 1pm. Click here to book
Willow is easy to grow by pushing a one or two-year-old stick into the ground. This is one reason it is so good to use for living structures such as fences arches and chairs
Willow evolved in wet areas and along rivers. When a piece of branch falls into the river it floats along and grows roots once it hits a bit of bank
Its bark contains salicylic acid — the basis for aspirin — and for generations has been used for pain relief by chewing the bark
In the UK willow is second only to oak for having the highest number of wildlife species that rely on it (more than 300 insects and mites and 160 lichens)
Willow comes in almost all the colours of the rainbow; from black to purple, red, orange ,yellow and green. If cut each year, its colourful stems make a wonderful addition to the winter garden
Willow loves a drain — so think carefully about where you plant it. It is recommended that it is planted at least one and a half times the height the willow will be allowed to grow.