Living willow structures are great fun to make and a highly unusual addition to any garden. You can make fences with them, arches, tunnels, screens and sun rooms. They self-renew, don’t need painting, the only maintenance required is a quick trim. In addition they help increase the habitat available to wildlife in your garden. Even better, they are cheap and very easy to build. Given all this it’s surprising that they are not used more often in homes and business premiss.
Ways To Build
There are lots of specialise suppliers out there who offer a range of products and services – just Google Living Willow Structure or something similar to find them. You can buy the willow stems, kits that contain everything you need to make a particular type of structure or attend a course or workshop to teach you some of the finer points. You can also have a specialist install it for you, but where’s the fun in that? The most fun and cheapest way is simply to get hold of some willow off cuts and experiment – get the whole family involved.
You can see from the project below that the ground was marked out and a strip of turf removed. The ground was dug over to loosen the soil and remove any weeds. Willow is not that fussy but you can add fertiliser and organic matter if your soil is very poor or you want fast results. You will need to trim off the dry ends to the stems and bury them a good few inches in the ground, more than five no more than 13. Use the thickest willow to form a frame for your structure – if you only have short or thin stems you can use cane to form the frame. As the willow grows over the supports and thickens you can start to remove the none living structural canes.
The structure will need to be given some rigidity to withstand the weather until it becomes established. Do this by winding several stems around each other on the basic structural frame and around any edges, doorways or windows. You can use ties and string to attach horizontal and diagonal struts to give the structure more rigidity. Again if you have long willow stems you can angle and bend them to form the horizontal struts. If you don’t have any long enough just use none living cane and remove it when your willow has grow up it.
Then fill in the around the base of the structure with the thinner willow stems. Check it now and again to make sure that the structure is still sound – tighten any loose strings and rewind any stems that come loose. If it is not perfect don’t worry, just trim it and retrain the new growth until you have the structure you want. Visit the enduring gardener blog for similar garden design ideas.
You should use brown hardwood stems that have lost their leaves naturally but before their buds start to open to reveal the green leaves – so any time over Winter or very early spring. Vertical stems will normally mainly sprout growth from the top. Diagonal or horizontal stems will sprout along their length so think about how much growth you need where and plant accordingly. You can plant stems very close together so 20-30cm gaps are fine.
In the first year or two water the willow and weed the base. After that it can take care of itself. In year one do not trim the hedge at all as the growth will help the roots establish. When the leaves are about to drop in the Autumn remove any stems that failed to root and died. You can replace these during the Winter. In the first couple of years monitor the new growth – rabbits, deer and caterpillars can damage the new growth.
As the willow is so fast to grow and bendy you really can be very imaginative. Your tunnels and rooms can be unsymmetrical and windy – just do an image search to see some of the wonderful things that people have created.