At our allotment site, Bowbrook Allotment Community usually known as BAC, we feature willows in several areas of our communal green spaces.
The first to be created was a Willow Dome. Within the dome is a raised turf bench where children sit to have stories read to them and play with toys but the adults tend to use it on sunny days when a little dappled shade is needed as coffee break time arrives. They too enjoy reading books or magazines while resting there. Logs provide extra seats where youngsters can explore trays of rocks and search them for fossils. After two years the sides are getting taller and we wait impatiently for them to be tall enough to pull over, tie together and make our roof.
We built the dome just after the site opened and it was the first of the features we created for children. The willow all came from cuttings taken from a willow arbor we had over our bench on our previous allotment, with additional different stem coloured cuttings donated by other plot holders. We created the willow dome during a working party and as we cut out the shape into which we would plant the willows we turned over the turfs to start the raised seating.
The willow at the entrance has now grown enough to arch over into a doorway just right for children to enter through but adults need to bend down to do so. As the willow it is woven in to shape which strengthens it. We have created windows within the willow wall giving different views. The first photo shows the window that lets children watch birds on the feeders so the dome acts as a living bird hide as well, and the second shows the window with a view into the “Fruit Avenue”.
And here are some photos we took as we were creating the dome, showing “The Undergardener” in busy mode and a few as it developed later.
We then had requests to create a willow structure on the other side of the site, so I designed a new area featuring a Willow Tunnel. We made the tunnel just tall enough for adults to walk through but quite narrow, so that it felt enclosed for children exploring it. As this part of our site is wetter the willow has grown much more quickly so already the tunnel shape has been formed.
Later we placed a picnic bench close by and surrounded it with a circle of five different varieties of birch, with varying leaf colour and shape and trunks with equally varied colours and textures. So now we can walk through the willow tunnel and discover a bench to sit on and enjoy the shade of our birch grove.
The third feature is all willow – a Withy Bed. Here we grow 17 different varieties of Salix, varying in stem colour from yellow and orange to deep green and black. We planted them as short cuttings, about a foot in length, known as “rods”. We planted the rods in the dampest area of the site which the willows would enjoy but we also hoped it would help reduce some of the winter flooding on the plots at this end of the site and act as a wind break. Eventually we hope to coppice some of the willows and pollard others to provide plant supports when cut. The willows are still young and small but we hope that soon we will be able to start harvesting them.
The following photos show the willow rods as they were delivered and Pete busy working on the withy bed creation.
As this year has been so wet and therefore loved by willows we hope to see massive growth on all these features. It is difficult to know whether we should classify these features as “land art” or “garden sculpture” – whatever they are, they are fun places!