Although most garden work has to be put on hold for another few weeks, March is the time of year to create living willow structures for playgrounds and gardens as the clippings need to be planted in the dormant season.
Once put in the ground the clippings quickly acclimatise and grow roots. As living willow changes throughout the seasons, it is predestined to form enchanting garden features.
When creating living willow structures the branches are joined together in lattice structures to form the desired shape. It’s a great way to efficiently erect green screens, define social spaces and build sheltered sitting places such as arbours which are great structures for playgrounds and gardens.
Being naturally sturdy willow is also an ideal material for shaded structures on school fields, providing imaginative play spaces and social meeting places. Living willow can be shaped into domes and tunnels, woven to look like ships, dragons or caterpillars. All of which will bring a new dimension to school playgrounds, public parks and private gardens.
Besides making inviting sitting places and play areas living willow structures can also be used for decorative purposes only. Green willow arches provide a nice focal point as an entrance to a garden. They form a unifying link between two adjoining outdoor spaces. Another possibility is to plant temporary living willow arches in leaky containers set into the ground. Dug out in spring or summer and decorated with flowers they can be transported to wedding venues to feature as a stunning backdrop or a gate the bridal party can walk through.
As living willow is fairly easy to work with, one can construct a large structure with a group of helpers in a day or two. This enables you the creation of a useful play space or defining a garden area relatively quickly. Sylvan Skills recently worked on a living willow maze including screening around a growing area for Quaking Houses Village Hall Association. Together with local helpers a large dome and about 20 m of tunnel were created in just two days. At St Helen’s Church in Low Fell (Gateshead) a living willow dome and tunnel was planted and formed with the help of the local congregation, including young people achieving their Bronze Duke of Edinburgh Award.
Sylvan Skills often works with families and children when creating sculptures for schools, community groups and public institutions.
When bringing elements from children’s imagination to life in a collaborative effort, young children can help putting willow in prepared holes in the ground. In the meantime older children enjoy taking part in the weaving process. The structures can be fashioned by using different coloured varieties of willow. Adding decorative elements such as portholes, eyes, floral motifs, ribbons and wind chimes or having fragrant plants growing up them will further enhance the sensory experience.
Made from a material which naturally renews itself each structure becomes a resource for harvesting. Willow which can then be used for crafting activities or planting further structures.
Living willow likes to have a good 8 inches to 1 foot of soil to grow in. Preferably in a damp place with plenty of light coming in from all directions. Once established in their new setting, living willow structures can last for 20 years or more if maintained correctly. We recommend regularly weaving in the regrowth on the sides and giving them a haircut on the top twice yearly. The regrowth that is cut-off for Christmas can be used to make Christmas decorations such as wreaths and willow stars.