Here in the UK, the willow cutting and planting season starts from November through to early April. Its a chilly time of year to be getting your loppers out to spend a day gleaning willow but its always well worth the effort and provides us with a nice opportunity to get together as a family and do something fun & productive. Working with living willow is very different to sculpture. I love being able to create a living willow archway for a path or an create an alternative, natural play area for my little boy. Its low cost, natural & great for the environment.
Below are some photos of living willow domes and other living willow structures & sculptures we have made and we have also listed some benefits to creating living willow sculptures and structures.
In the Spring of this year we made some living willow domes & a beautiful living willow pear. Each dome was made using a combination of 10 foot Viminalis willow and 7 foot Flanders and Hybrid Red as well as some smaller 3 foot withies, which we used to bind the longer rods together when forming the dome. The willow pear was made using a mixture of willow species grown locally and harvested by us in the Spring.
Making a Willow Dome
When making a dome, we tend to use less willow than some of the traditional dome making kits on the market as we’ve noticed that when they are nurtured and grown successfully, if we had planted more rods they would have become difficult to manage! We can create domes in all sizes, typically around 3 metres in diameter. We were once asked to re-create the bio domes at the Eden Project with one group of school children, after they had been on a school trip there. This consisted of three domes of different diameters and heights with connecting tunnels and doorways.
- Below are some photos of a dome we made for a friend. The last photo showing growth within a 6 month period. As you can see it’s taken really well. We have woven a lot of the longer shoots that were sprouting from the top back inside the dome to create a thicker more dense wall of willow. This is the general idea when tending to a living willow structure. Over time, the more you weave in the off shoots, the denser the walls of your dome or tunnel will become.
Living willow dome structure 2
Here is another dome we made for Hanna’s son’s nursery, here in Surrey, England. We’ve been told that all the children absolutely love playing in it and use it as a secret hideaway. Many of the children are intrigued by the dome and ask lots of questions about how it works, what it is 7 how does it grow. Over the summer months they’ve all enjoyed taking part in carefully weaving in the long shoots, spending lots of time helping it to take shape.
Living willow pear sculpture
This living willow pear began life quite a few years ago as a non living sculpture. It was a commission sculpture and consisted of a steel frame with coppiced willow woven into it. It was a play, hideaway for two very young children back then. The client called and asked if her children, who are now teenagers, could spend a day with Sara re creating the ‘old pear’ they had had so much fun with as children.
I suggested using living willow as we had just been coppicing at our friends willow beds nearby, We had many different varieties of willow with vibrant colorful stems, beautiful yellows and reds. I spent a lovely day with two great young people and was pleased to receive some lovely photos of the pear, later on in the year, full of leaf
Living willow archway
This archway was made in Hanna’s back garden. Instead of following the typical and most commonly seen method of planting and construction. Hanna chose to plant hers more randomly and freely. Willow construction is really what you want it to be, so get creative and have fun with it.
Benefits of planting living willow
There are many benefits to planting living willow and creating outdoor living willow structures and sculptures. Below is a list of reasons why we think you should get involved with planting your own.
- Creating structures with willow is easy to do yourself and doesn’t cost very much at all. It can be extremely satisfying watching your structure take shape and can also provide valuable educational opportunities for your little ones.
- Living willow is also a resource – you can harvest new growth as the new whips grow. Lots of people often use these whips to make baskets and sculptures.
- Willow structures can provide height very quickly if needed in your garden.
- Living willow is great for the environment, absorbing carbon dioxide form the atmosphere.
- Making a living willow structure doesn’t involve any factories or manufacturing processes.
- Living willow does not require any creosote or other toxic preservatives – unlike your common garden fence, seat or arbor.
- Willow structures are also prettier than standard fencing.
- Living willow structures provide a habitats (and food) for wildlife. Its leaves enrich the soil (or compost heap) year on year.
- Archways and living willow structures provide great climbing supports for flowers ie – clematis and looks lovely too!
- Adding living a willow structure to a garden or outside space, provides you with a lovely area in which to chill and unwind in.
- You do not need to be an expert to plant and grow a structure. Over time as the willow grows you will be able to transform your structure into your desired shape, it just takes a little bit of time and patience!
REMEMBER ! The cutting and planting season here in England runs from December through to early April. So for only four months of the year this type of willow is readily available. Depending on where you are in the world, you will need to find out when this season runs where you are and will need to bare this in mind if you are considering embarking on a living willow project.