Categories
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.

2015 05 11_1519

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.

2015 05 11_1465 2015 05 11_1466

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

2015 05 11_1467 2015 05 11_1468 2015 05 11_14702015 05 11_1469  2015 05 11_14742015 05 11_1472 2015 05 11_1473

 

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.

2015 05 11_1476 2015 05 11_14782015 05 11_1481

2015 05 11_1483 2015 05 11_1484 2015 05 11_1485

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.

 

2015 05 11_1486 2015 05 11_1487 2015 05 11_1488 2015 05 11_1489 2015 05 11_1490 2015 05 11_1492

 

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.

2015 05 11_1501 2015 05 11_1500

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.

2015 05 11_1518

2015 05 11_1503

 

 

 

Categories
allotments garden buildings recycling

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.

2015 02 17_9584-1 2015 03 13_9864 2015 03 13_9865

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.

2015 03 13_9867 2015 03 13_9866  2015 03 13_9868

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.

2015 03 13_9869 2015 03 13_9870 2015 03 13_9871 2015 03 13_9873 2015 03 13_9874 2015 03 13_9875

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.

2015 03 13_9877   2015 03 13_98792015 03 13_9878

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.

2015 03 13_9857 2015 03 20_0037

Categories
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)

2015 01 18_9332_edited-1-1

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.

2015 02 26_9659

2015 02 26_9658_edited-1

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.

2015 01 18_9338-12015 03 16_0011

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.

2015 01 18_9343-1 2015 03 16_0024 2015 03 16_0023  2015 03 16_0012

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.

2015 01 18_9347-1 2015 03 16_0009

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.

2015 02 26_96652015 02 26_9666 2015 02 26_96602015 02 26_9664 2015 02 26_9663  2015 02 26_96612015 03 16_0010 2015 03 16_0008

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.

2015 02 26_96692015 02 17_9600

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.

2015 03 16_0020 2015 03 16_0021

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.

2015 03 16_9980 2015 03 16_9981 2015 03 16_9982

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.

 

Categories
climbing plants colours garden design garden designers garden photography gardening gardens gardens open to the public grasses hardy perennials Italian style gardens meadows ornamental grasses ornamental trees and shrubs Piet Oudolf RSPB sculpture Staffordshire Tom Stuart-Smith Winter Gardening winter gardens

A Garden in December – Trentham – Part Two

Back at the Trentham Gardens we moved into the borders designed by Tom Stuart-Smith. But first we passed through the formality of the Italianate borders with their strong structure of low box hedges. The view of these borders, which we get from the top of a flight of semi-circular stone steps is guaranteed to take our breath away. We looked forward to this moment every time we visited.

2014 12 16_8815 2014 12 16_8823

Seed heads were the stars here too with a mix of tall grasses and structural perennials. New growth was appearing promising colour to come in the spring.

2014 12 16_8825 2014 12 16_8826 2014 12 16_8827 2014 12 16_88282014 12 16_8829 2014 12 16_8831

Phlomis, having given bright sunshine coloured flowers in summer, were now starring again with their dark brown almost black spheres of seed heads spaced up the length of their straight stems.

2014 12 16_8830 2014 12 16_88322014 12 16_8847 2014 12 16_8833 2014 12 16_8834

The tallest stems were of a plant we did not recognise. Tiny seed heads hung like Tibetan prayer flags from gently bowing stems.

2014 12 16_8835 2014 12 16_88402014 12 16_8836 2014 12 16_88372014 12 16_8838 2014 12 16_8839

As we left the T S-S borders we looked back over them from the raised pathway. Dampness from earlier showers made the path surface glisten and reflect the blue of the sky.

2014 12 16_8842

On the lawned slopes by the glass fronted cafe giant snowdrops powered over our heads. We  always love willow structures! These were made from willow, some stripped of their brownish green bark and were beautifully woven and shaped. They stood a good 10 feet tall.

2014 12 16_8841 2014 12 16_8846 2014 12 16_8843 2014 12 16_8845 2014 12 16_8846

After our compulsory coffee stop which, was much appreciated on this cold December morning, we wandered back through the borders towards the Rose Walk. Again my camera snapped away at the wonderful structures of the perennials and grasses.

2014 12 16_8848 2014 12 16_8849 2014 12 16_8850 2014 12 16_8851

Although most winter structure showsoff the many shades of biscuits and browns, silver seemed to dominate one area. Giant leaves of Verbascum hugged the cold ground in huge, soft, silver rosettes. The silver giants were the Onorpordum or Scotch Thistles which in winter take on strong sculptural shapes.

2014 12 16_8852 2014 12 16_8853 2014 12 16_8854 2014 12 16_8855 2014 12 16_8856 2014 12 16_8857

The roses still persisted, producing occasional buds in gentler colours than in the summer. There was an added subtlety about them which gave them extra charm.

2014 12 16_8859 2014 12 16_8860 2014 12 16_8861 2014 12 16_8862 2014 12 16_8863

The sculptures at either end of the Rose Walk were wrapped up snuggly against the ravages of the winter. The Japanese Acers along side the walk displayed their seeds like the rotors of helicopters. The Wisteria which had clothed the metalwork with blue racemes of flowers in the Summer was now showing buds and old seed pods.

2014 12 16_8864 2014 12 16_8865 2014 12 16_8867 2014 12 16_8868 2014 12 16_8869 2014 12 16_8870

As usual I took a few photos looking through the arches across to the River of Grasses.

2014 12 16_8871 2014 12 16_8865

We were amazed to see a clump of Delphiniums with fresh growth of foliage and strong flower stems with fattening buds. No doubt the weather will have the last say and bring them to a premature ending.

2014 12 16_8866

The team of Trentham gardeners were, as always, beavering away in the borders. We have enjoyed seeing what they are up to on each of our visits. They have always greeted us with a smile and a few words of welcome.

2014 12 16_8873 2014 12 16_8874 2014 12 16_8875

So there we have it – a year in the life of one of Britain’s best gardens! Even though we have made the effort to visit every month throughout 2014 it never seemed a chore. We loved every minute of the many hours spent here. And we shall keep coming back. It has to be our most popular garden destination.

 

Categories
bird watching birds community gardening garden design garden photography gardening Land Art outdoor sculpture trees

Willow Features at Bowbrook Allotment Community

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!