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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
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.

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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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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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!