About this blog

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Wales, United Kingdom
In autumn 2010, my husband Ian and I both quit our jobs, sold our house and left the flatlands of the east for the mountains of Wales. Our goal is to create a more self-sufficient lifestyle in a place we actually like living. Whilst Ian will continue to earn some money as a freelancer, my part of the project is to reduce how much we spend by growing and making as much of what we need as possible. The purpose of this blog is to keep friends updated with how the grand project is progressing, but all are welcome here. If you're not a friend already, well perhaps you might become one.

Monday, 13 April 2015

Playing with willow

I recently started helping out at the gardening club of the local primary school. It's a lovely little rural school with a lovely garden that includes, as well as raised beds for veg and a herb garden, a living willow structure for children to play in. This is a dome tall enough for an adult to stand up in, with two tunnel entrances, one of which is certainly NOT tall enough for an adult. When I saw this structure just before Easter, it also wore a crown of shoots, about twelve feet tall. I commented on this to Charlotte, who runs the gardening club, and she said, Yes, that really needs attention. We'll probably have to get Sam in to deal with it. Noooooo! Sorry for taking your business, Sam, but I have my eye on that willow. I'll do it, I said.

I spent a pleasant couple of half-days in the school garden, weaving in and cutting willow. That is, they started pleasantly enough, but were pretty tiring after a few hours, especially the first day, when I'd forgotten to put the time on my phone forwards by an hour, so stayed an hour longer than I thought I had. It's no wonder that Ian came to see what had happened to me. He then went back for the car, as my original plan of bringing the cuttings home by sack truck didn't seem all that realistic.

Elly the 2CV, proving her worth in the last few days before she comes off the road to await funds for major surgery

I had a couple of plans for the willow, but before I got round to starting on them I had an Idea. It was one of those ideas that's just too tempting to ignore, so everything else gets pushed back to make way for it.

Idea, manifest

Can I make a bench out of willow? Yes, it seems that I can. Can I sit on it? Um, no, not as such... The idea is that all those willow twigs will take root, and as they grow they'll get stronger, and then we'll have a really cool living willow bench that we can actually sit on. Although willow takes root very easily, it really should have been planted about a month ago, before the leaves came out, so I'm not entirely confident that this will work, but I'm reasonably optimistic. In the meantime, I've moved the old bench a bit further along, so we can still use that.

Once I'd made the bench, I turned to more mundane applications. I cut lengths of the sturdiest pieces to stick in a soft bit of ground below the driveway, where the roots should help reinforce the ground and prevent the driveway sliding into the stream when it floods. I should also be able to harvest lots of shoots from these, for either firewood (poor quality, but high volume) or basketry. The medium thickness shoots were used to make a fence around the terrace, to replace the one I planted originally, that subsequently died. I'll take more care with watering, this time.

Willow fence, second attempt

I still have the top pieces that I cut off the sturdiest shoots, which is just as well, because I'd forgotten another use I thought of a while ago. When we moved here there were two wooden arches over our garden path. One of them was old and rotten, and is no more. I'd like to replace that with a living willow arch. I don't think the pieces I have left are long enough to make an arch, so that will have to be a longer term project, but none the worse for that. In the meantime, I was quite glad of the rain yesterday, otherwise I'd have a lot of watering to do.


  1. Holy Moly! I've never heard of this sort of thing. So you just stick the branches in the ground and they take root... and the thing keeps it's shape? It's like living wicker furniture or something. My mind is blown! :-)

    1. I know! It's pretty cool, isn't it?
      Note: Willow is a very thirsty tree (ideal for Wales).

    2. I googled "living willow structures" and some of the images are just incredible.

      Looks like something straight out of Harry Potter or The Hobbit.

      And when you said your first attempt failed for lack of water I realized why I've never seen anything like it here! :-)

  2. Oh that chair looks fantastic! You are clever. I hope it all takes and look forward to seeing how it matures. :-)

    1. Thank you. At least some of it is definitely still alive. I'm not sure how much, though.

  3. That looks and sounds fantastic Rachel!


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