Early this year, Phil Bradley, a professional willow grower and weaver, kindly gave us a thick bunch of willow cuttings to establish our very own willow bed, and it couldn’t have been easier.
Unlike vegetable growing where you must lovingly prepare the earth to sow seeds or transplant seedlings, you simply thrust the end of the willow cutting, right way up, into the ground and cut it with a sharp pair of secateurs about 20 cm above the ground. The important thing is to push the stem as far in as possible, between 6 to 12 inches into the earth.
Phil gave us a variety known as Salix Purpurea ‘Eugenii’. This willow variety has a golden to red blush on the stem and grows between 5 to 8 foot in length at its maturity. This variety is ideal for weaving baskets. It will take about 3 years to reach full growth as the cutting establishes many shoots and grows into a thick stump.
There are many different varieties of willow, in a range of differently coloured barks, thicknesses and lengths. Green, red, golden, purple barks make a striking impression in basket weaving when carefully applied in layered patterns or perhaps in a sculpture. There is also the simple though functional use of hurdles for the garden, edging for garden beds, or trellising and ‘wig-wams’ for beans in the vegetable beds.
We wanted our willow patch to serve as a wind break for our vegetable beds as well as providing us with enough willow cuttings to make a few willow baskets and craft projects. We planted six long rows about shoulder width apart and 30 cm between each cutting. We planted our cuttings in May, although this was getting towards the very end of the possible planting period which began in late February. Our ground was quite hard and stony, but we managed to push the cuttings is as far as they would go – a sharp diagonal cut on the end of the stem helped to pierce the ground.
Over the Summer months, it was clear that our simple efforts had worked. Our six rows of willow were sprouting new growth, with the exception of a few cuttings which we will replace next spring. Success!
Only a few days ago, I cut the first years growth from our willow cuttings. I cut about 1 to 2 inches above the place where the shoot was coming off the main stem. There were plenty of new buds ready to shoot of these in the next year, so the coppiced stump should thicken up nicely over the next year or two. This year I cut about 3 to 4 shoots from each stump. Next year they will be thicker, longer and more abundant. As time goes by, each Summer we will have a lovely thick willow patch to protect our garden from winds and create a room like division between the vegetable beds, the forest garden and the composting zone.
If you are curious about willow for your garden or small holding and would like to know what it is all about we are hosting Willow Harvesting Days with Phil Bradley on Saturday the 31st January and 7th February. We will visit his growing sites, learn about how to establish, care for, harvest and grade willow. We will also visit his weaving work shop and see what can be made from this versatile and hardy crop!
Laya Point will also be hosting a weekend workshop with Phil Bradley on Mythological Creature Willow Sculpture on 24 – 25 January. This fun weekend is a great way to learn about the creative uses of willow and of course, you will take home your very own willow sculpture. Contact us now to book your place!