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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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!