Weaving a willow wonderland

The only limit to creating a willow structure is your imagination, as the Rosemoor team discover

Susie building a willow denA new, intriguing feature has emerged in the Copse! We designed this with our younger visitors in mind, to enhance an existing space within the stepping log area.

This living willow construction comprises a central den with three tunnels leading from it. Once the willow has put on its summer growth it will block off the visual line from one side of the stepping logs to the other, providing an exciting place for children to hide and play. This area is partially hidden and will give children the feeling that they are embarking on an adventure of discovery.

How we did it

We inserted lengths of willow whips, which were cut a couple of weeks ago from our willow bed, into a pilot hole about 10-12in (25-30cm) deep. Laterals are placed at 45 degrees (which give the structure and tunnel its support) and uprights at approximately (12in) 30cm apart. We then wove the laterals alternately through the uprights.

Living willow tunnelsOnce we were happy with their positioning we firmed the willow at the base – this is to ensure good contact with the soil to enable successful rooting. There was no need for us to add organic matter or feed prior to planting. We then mulched the area in the tunnels and den to denote the pathway, make it less muddy and to suppress weeds.

We tied the willow in place with string just so that it keeps its shape while growing; the long whips were woven in and loose ends cut. Finally, we added circular ‘windows’. These will eventually grow brittle and will come out, but hopefully new shoots can be woven around the circles so the shape will be kept. Each year, new growth will be woven in or pruned back.

I have really enjoyed the whole process of this project, willow is a very versatile, creative material to work with; it is flexible and fun to shape and weave. Once the basic rules have been adhered to, the only limit to building is your own imagination. There are some amazing structures out there, for more inspiration just google ‘living willow’.

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Working with living willow

Make a willow star

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The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.