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Willows

Andy Goodwin and Charlotte Holmes contributed this article (and much of the physical work) on the creation of a willow bed at the Peace Oak. If it inspires you and you wish to contact them they can be contacted on andygooders@hotmail.com or Charlotte at rogue-designs. They are seeking volunteers.

We've kicked off a willow cultivation project with an amazing contribution of some space to plant at Peace Oak, where we have created a brand new willow bed to grow our own crops of locally produced organic willow for weaving workshops, living sculpture, ornamental fencing and more, as well as providing valuable wildlife benefits, and also a great deal of loveliness - since willow grown for annual coppicing is a beautiful thing!

Willow is a very interesting species: there are up to 500 varieties of willow, it comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes, from graceful and stately weeping willow trees, to ground hugging arctic dwarf varieties. We're planting varieties which are most suitable for basketry and weaving, which can be easily managed and coppiced for 'withies' annually. They also have numerous other environmental benefits - some of which you can read about below!

At Peace Oak we've created a 'wave bow' shape bed to host several different varieties of willow, and we've started an example perimeter fence in a wave effect, and yet more boundary and trellis examples will follow shortly!

Many thanks to everyone who helped with the inaugural planting (especially ground preparation and shovelling!) at Peace Oak on Saturday, and thanks for Catriona and Kevan for generously donating stock for the first 3 varieties listed below, it was great for us to be able to cut from local stock to propagate the project!

At Peace Oak we've planted the varieties listed alongside*

To plant the willow we cut from foraged rods to make foot-long stakes. Willow likes a sunny spot, and to grow it for coppicing rods or withies, it doesn't want too much competition from other plants and trees, so we use a landscaping fleece to suppress any grass or weeds, and at Peace Oak we were lucky to be able to cover that with wood chip mulch. Then it's simply a matter of making a hole with a pointy thing (like a bodkin or a long screwdriver) and pushing our stakes in, they'll root, and hopefully shoot, ready for cutting next winter to use for all manner of projects..

We are actively seeking other sites to grow more, as aside from all of the environmental and ornamental uses (this is such a useful and diverse species, we can produce anything with it from plant supports bio fuel) we really want more stock to harvest to be able to run courses for the schools and the interested!

The planting season is very nearly closed for this year (March 20), but it would be lovely to find more possible sites. This year they sites need to be pretty much 'ready to go' due to the season being nearly over. however, this is a long term project, so identifying space for next year would also be great.

Also a quick shout out, if anyone has any harvested willow available, either for planting or future projects or courses, or if anyone has any coppiced willows which provide surplus withies, please do let us know, we'd be interested to find more local material!

Gallery

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Preparing the site - Photographer Andy GoodwinGolden willow planted - Photographer Andy GoodwinFurther plantingBorder control - Photographer Andy GoodwinWhat, no dog wood ! - Photographer Andy GoodwinThe finished product - Photographer Andy Goodwin

Varieties

1. Green Willow, or Osier: Salix viminalis

Strong, neat and bendy, osier willow is the best of the best for basket weaving. It’s not only a source of food and shelter for native wildlife, it can even decontaminate soils it is planted on!

The first aspirin, still a very effective painkiller was derived from willow bark.

2. Purple Willow: Salix purpurea

Valued for its beautiful slightly arching orange through to purple rods, purple willow is excellent for weaving and has slender silvery catkins in spring which produce early pollen and nectar for bees. It supports a number of butterflies and moths, including the Eyed Hawk Moth and the Herald Moth. As with most varieties, Purple willow can be grown for annual coppicing, but can also be great for  stabilising river banks.

3. Golden Willow: Salix alba vitellina

The Golden Willow, a variant of the White Willow can potentially make a tall tree, but it is more often coppiced as a multi-stemmed shrub for its colourful stems, which we'll love using. The young stems are bright golden yellow and they make a glowing statement in the winter landscape. The flowers provide food for insects in spring, and the coppiced stems provide shelter and cover for birds and small mammals.

4. Flander Red: Salix Alba Vitellina x Fragilis

A very hardy and waxy skinned wicker rod varying in colour from green at the butt end to a striking red at the tip. Excellent as a living willow for soil erosion and bank revetment projects and also decoratively excellent for in-situ fencing, traditional style willow hurdles and wicker fencing panels, living sculptures arches and bowers. Also good for basketry adding a depth of colour, and lovely to work with due to its waxy skin, it's often grown decoratively because of the bright colours in its stems.

Andy's favourite, this stock comes from his willow bed in Wales.

5. Grey Willow / pussy willow: Salix cinerea subsp. oleifolia

A soft, silvery lover of damp woodland, the grey willow is a bit scruffy but full of charm. Caterpillars flock to feed on its leaves and its fuzzy 'cat paw' shaped catkins are an early pollen source for pollinators. Not really one for basketry, but useful for all sorts of other things and it makes for lovely cover and screening, and the foliage is eaten by caterpillars of a number of moths, including the sallow kitten, sallow clearwing, dusky clearwing and lunar hornet clearwing. It is also a food plant for the purple emperor butterfly. Catkins provide an important early source of pollen and nectar for bees and other insects, and birds use grey willow to forage for caterpillars and insects. We've used this variety to make some edging borders, so haven't planted it for green willow this time, but hope to find a space to make living sculpture from it soon!

* with thanks to Woodland Trust, Musgrove Willows and RHS for additional info.

Local Covid ResponseEynsham Image ArchiveGarden Village - have your sayEynsham Heritage