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countryside landscapes meadows trees

Somerset Willows

I love Salix (willows) – they are one of my favourite trees almost on a par with Betulas (Birches). I always have liked them, our own native species and the garden varieties we can grow. We have several at home in our garden and use them on our allotment communal gardens where we have a Withy Bed with 17 different varieties with different coloured stems and leaves. From these we have made a Fedge, which is a living hedge and a Willow Dome and Willow Tunnel for the children.

I used to like seeing them as a child when I fished a local stream. We moved from one ancient gnarled willow to another. Many were hollow pollarded specimens completely open on one side. We explored the hollow ones as we could often get inside them and look up at the sky. They were great shelters when rain showers stopped us fishing.

When we found ourselves in Somerset we realised that we were close to the Wetland and Willows Centre, so we just had to drop by and have a wander.

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We followed  a sign taking us for a tour around the productive land around the centre. We passed over a bridge with sides constructed from willow with decorative willow features within.

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The path took us to an area full of willow structures mainly places for children to explore, even including a willow snail!

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As we moved on we came across a willow drying fence where the harvested willows were hung out to dry. A little further on as we made our way through a wooded area we found this willow spider in its web, a beautiful hedgehog and a buzzard flying through the branches.

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Leaving the wood we found ourselves walking through the wetlands, the drainage of which was controlled by windmills, sluices and a series of ditches. Large areas were willow plantations, the productive heart of the wetlands.

 

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As we were reaching the end of our tour of the wetlands we discovered the drying racks where the harvested willow wands were left to dry.

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Before leaving we just had to look at the centre’s museum. We were amazed at how many things are made from willow and all the other items from the past. My first museum photo gives a taster of the delights in the museum. To find out more look through the gallery below. To enjoy my gallery just click on the first picture and use the arrows to negotiate your way through.

We enjoyed our visit to find out more about willows and came away simply amazed! We came away with this unusual willow bird table.

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Categories
colours conservation countryside gardening landscapes nature reserves ornamental trees and shrubs trees Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust Winter Gardening

The Wonder of Willows – part one

We spent a cold February day at the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust reserve in Gloucestershire, Slimbridge. Work was going on coppicing and pollarding the many willows around the site. It is so good to see this ancient countryside craft still being practised. Many of the willows here at Slimbridge are ancient but there is plenty of planting of willows going on all the time. When the trees have been cut the wands are used around the site. In other parts of the country the willow prunings are used in cottage industries like basket making and hurdle making. Larger pieces are also used as fuel. Willows are so useful but also very beautiful, the branches of no two ever seem the same ranging from greens and yellows to oranges and reds. One in our garden has even got black branches which develop a white bloom on them in the winter, making it a beautiful addition to our garden.

The photo below shows a grove of willows through an observation hatch in a hide.

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The photo below photo shows a craftsmen head down sharpening his tools and having a break from pollarding these ancient willows. The wands when cut are delivered around the site where they are used to make screens which allow the public to walk around the site without disturbing the wildfowl and waders feeding in the lakes, scrapes and estuarine mud.

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There is evidence of recent coppicing and pollarding at every turn.

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The pair of pictures below show a freshly cut willow and another showing strong regrowth.

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Some of the older willow trees line the main paths and looking close up you can see the gnarled bark. Some are hollowed out so that in extreme case only a tube of trunk remains.

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Enjoy this little gallery of photos of individual trees.

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We came across groves of small willows pollarded at about 4 feet high. When freshly cut they look like a busy crowd of people.

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The bowls of ancient willow after years of being subject to regular pollarding create a perfect moist area for mosses to thrive.

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So there we have it – a brief appreciation of the willows at Slimbridge. They have an important role to play in these wild areas but of course they can also star in our gardens. But, as they say, that is a different story. Soon we will need to pollard and prune the many willows we grow in the community gardens of our allotment site. I shall post a blog celebrating those willows soon.

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So there we leave Slimbridge with its wonderful willows and look forward to my next post about willows, featuring these versatile trees growing in much smaller places.