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The Wonders of Willow – Even more willow magic!

We enjoyed a day playing with willow recently in the garden of friends Liz and Rich’s new home. They wanted us to build a play feature from willow for their youngsters Ella and Edward. So we arrived amongst the mess of builders’ vans, wheelbarrows encrusted in concrete, and piles of materials stripped out of the old house which is undergoing renovation.

We used some of the prunings from the pollarded Violet Willow in our garden which I shared in my recent post about my garden journal in February, along with lots of different coloured prunings from our allotment community garden which was also featured in an earlier post concerning the magic of willows. We found a suitable spot in the bottom of the garden partly shaded under mature trees and with a good amount of moisture in the soil under a layer of gravel. We collected our tools together, marked out the shape and loosened the top layer of soil.

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Before we could start placing the willow wands we had to remove the many little seedlings that had found their way into the moist gravel, an ideal seed bed. The first pic below shows just how many we found. They will find a new home at the allotments bartered in exchange for the willow prunings.  There was a good selection with wildlife value including Primroses, Pulmonarias, Arum Lily and seedling Hollies and Cotoneasters. Once clear the willows were put in place but we had to make a hole with an augur to get them in deeply. The shape was soon forming – an igloo of willow.

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We made a low entry tunnel and then moved on to the main body. The area around the cuttings and the ground inside was mulched with bark chip partly to keep the prunings moist to help rapid rooting but also to make a comfortable play surface.

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Five hours later it was finished and we had tidied up. We admired our handywork over a last cup of coffee and slice of Victoria Sponge. We reminded Liz to keep it well watered and took our tools back to the car, which was much more empty on our return journey than on our way  there in the morning.

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As the new house is not ready to move into yet we had to wait to see the children’s reaction until Liz brought them over to see it. When they came it was very well received! Liz said the children were so pleased with it that it made an enjoyable day even more worthwhile. Ella soon realised that it would be a good place for playing hide and seek and Edward took his role as an explorer very seriously. Here’s to loads of fun, smiles and shared times with friends for years to come. And of course it is another fine example of recycling in the garden.

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allotments colours community gardening gardening ornamental trees and shrubs recycling trees Winter Gardening

The Wonder of Willows – part three

So for the third in my posts about the wonder of willows we move to our allotment community garden site, Bowbrook Allotment Community (www.bowbrookallotments.co.uk)

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Here we grow many different varieties of Salix, willows with different habits, leaf shapes and in particular coloured bark. but before I move on to look at these I thought I would reminisce a little and cast my mind back to my childhood where willows played an important role. I lived in the vale of the River Severn in Gloucestershire and here, the lowland nature of the farmland meant that ditches had been dug for centuries around field boundaries to help with drainage.These ditches, and indeed every stream and brook was flanked with willows. These were pollarded and regularly harvested to be used by local craftsmen and women, the basket makers, trug makers and hurdle makers amongst them. But to me as a country lad they meant places to search for wildlife, to hide from the fishes I was angling for and in the case of the old giant hollow trunked willows they were dens to hide in. Below is a picture of a little clump of such pollarded willows in Herefordshire we spoted on our journey back from Croft Castle.

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Most of our allotment willows  grow in our Withy Bed designed to help drain a particularly wet patch of land but mostly to provide vivid colours when they are stripped of their leaves in the autumn and winter months. We also grow them to help drain a wet part of our Winter Garden. The photo below was taken looking through the willows towards the white barked Betulas and the coloured stems of the Cornus (Dogwoods). As well as draining this area so effectively they add so much winter structure and colour of their own to the picture. In the second picture of these same willows you can see they have just been subject to their annual haircut.

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The contorted willow below is one of two being trained up tall to weep over the top of the path behind the Winter Bed to form an archway.

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Each spring as the weather gets a little more conducive to outside work a group of us have our work cut out pruning so many willows, some we coppice and others we pollard at different heights. We have about twenty different cultivars here to enable us to achieve the effects that we are after. It takes a small team of volunteers a day’s work to get the task completed, resulting in some aching backs the following day. The first pair of photos shows a pair of before and after shots of one of our yellow stemmed coppiced willows.

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We set off with a wide range of pruners from small secateurs up to hefty loppers and slowly move from one end of the Withy Bed to the other with a good few tea breaks. We find it helpful to be bendy and wriggly to get in among the willows, bending low to the coppiced stools and reaching high to the tallest pollards and every combination in between.

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The prunings created when we cut them are used around the site to make structures and to create plant supports. But for this year many have been used while developing our new wildlife pond. The photos below show the prunings being kept fresh by being lain into the pond and illustrate the range of colours available to us.

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We have Violet Willow growing in the allotment’s Spring Garden which was a cutting off our tree at home and after four years it is a beautiful specimen which has sparkling silver catkins in Spring.

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Last year we created a Fedge with the prunings to give us a brightly coloured living willow fence. This acts as a useful windbreak and also hides part of the site’s manure/compost compound. In the winter when I took these pics it doesn’t hide much but the diamond shaped trellice effect shows up.

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The final post in this series about willows will show how we have used some prunings from home and from the allotments to create a children’s play feature.

 

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colours flowering bulbs garden photography garden ponds garden pools garden wildlife gardening grasses hardy perennials light light quality ornamental grasses ornamental trees and shrubs recycling Shropshire spring bulbs spring gardening trees wildlife Winter Gardening winter gardens

My Garden Journal – February

Here we are with part two of my post featuring my garden journal, where we can look at what was going on in our garden in February.

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The first entry in my Garden Journal for February shares another quote from Jenny Joseph, “The next day, after a morning as closed in as ever, something must have shifted in the upper air, for suddenly there were distances and some weight was lifted from my head.” The first photos in this month’s journal were of startlingly white Snowdrops. “Bulbs send their tiny bright flowers out to greet us. Tiny but precious gems.” was my accompanying note.

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I also featured Primulas this month, “2015 is going to be a good year for Primulas. These two were flowering in the first days of Feb. Our plants of the native Primrose have been busy spreading their prodigy. We have seedlings in the gravel, in borders and in cracks in paving. Many are producing tiny flowers.”

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The first day of the new month was spent in the garden and what a wonderful day we had. A bonus day outside in mid-winter is so welcome. We pruned the climbing roses, trimmed down the old growth of perennials to reveal the fresh green shoots eagerly waiting to burst into growth with the onset of Spring. The plant that never fails to impress is the Sedum with its virulent fresh growth waiting thickly at the base of last year’s cut down stumps.

The tall elegant stems of grasses are now cut close to the ground after their winter display. Even the gentlest of breezes has encouraged them to dance, their stems swaying stiffly but gracefully and their seed heads far more fluent in their dances. They will soon be back. In my journal I noted “Cutting down the grasses is a task I do with mixed emotions. They become old friends in the garden and provide homes for over-wintering wildlife. Ladybirds especially love the shelter of their stems.”

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We like the month of February, as both Jude the Undergardener and I suffer from S.A.D.(seasonally adjusted disorder)  and mid way through February we can spot a change in the light and literally feel an improvement in light quality and with it an improvement in our mood. I am sure the garden feels the same as all that future growth waits underground to burst forth and all those buds lie waiting on the resting bare branches of the deciduous trees and shrubs.

Birds are showing signs of getting themselves prepared for the rituals of spring that awaits them. Blue Tits are exploring nest boxes already with two boxes already held by two pairs. Collared Doves, those invaders to our shores, entertain us by filling the sky with their acrobatics designed to impress their mates. They fly diagonally backwards into the air!

In my journal I wrote “It is always heartening to hear the first signs of the “Dawn Chorus”. Top billing goes to the Song Thrush. This early in the year it has already started to stake his claim through song. By the end of the month he is joined by Blackbirds singing from high points on trees or buildings. Wrens are also now singing to mark their territories but their songs emanate from deep inside shrubs.”

Our attention is drawn to the wildlife pond from mid-February onwards as it is around this time that we start to hear the deep croaks of the male frogs calling the females in to join them in the water. One evening coming in from the garden we made a plan to clear the leaves and any winter debris from the pond the next day before the first frogs arrived. But  they beat us to it for as we went into the garden to do just that a pair of mating frogs was in residence and close by lay a large glob of spawn. Our job became more difficult as we tried not to disturb their nuptials. My journal notes “February is also the month for mating frogs with their deep croaks heard from everywhere in the garden, “The Frogs’ Chorus!” We love frogs in the garden where they act as great pest controllers. Some move into the greenhouse once they leave the pond and work in there for us too. Free labour!

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We can still enjoy the coloured stems of Cornus and Salix and the coloured textured trunks of the trees. The Betulas glow white with hints of silver, cream or salmon, while the Prunus serrula shines gold and brown. The brightest of all though must be Cornus “Midwinter Fire”. Late in this month however we begin the task of coppicing and pollarding, hard pruning to give us bright new stems with brighter colours in the year to come. My journal says, “It is also the time of year when we begin to coppice all our Dogwoods and willows. This is the last we shall see of their brightly coloured stems for a few months.” I move on to make special mention of the Violet Willow of which we have a trained multi-stemmed pollarded specimen which holds a great presence in the garden at every time of the year.

The photos below illustrate how its many colours vary with the changing light.

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These shots show the before pruning and after pruning images, so you can see how hard we prune them down. We certainly need our strong, sharp loppers for this job.

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The final pictures illustrate just how much wood is removed and shows the colours of the branches. All this material will be used for making plant supports and will be useful when we make a willow dome for some friends’ garden in a week or so (look out for a post about this). This is a fine example of recycling in action in the garden.

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We shall make the next visit to my garden journal in the month of March which we hope is full of the promise of spring.