GARDENING WITH DAPHNE: Now’s a great time to start developing a willow fedge

Autumn (or was it winter – it certainly felt like it?) arrived with a bang last Sunday, which means it’s time to cut back some of the willows at The Patch.

We have a lot of willows at The Patch. We cut these back hard (coppice) them on a rotation, about one-third every winter, which has the purpose of keeping them a manageable size and preventing branches from splitting off.

Each tree produces a large number of young shoots every year. Left to their own devices, they continue to grow and thicken up until they are coppiced again, but the pliable, one-year old growths can be made into a variety of things, from green baskets and other decorative items for the home, to living structures such as arches, tunnels, domes and “fedges” (living fences). These are easy to make; children love constructing them as all that is needed is to know which way up to insert the shoots in the ground and plenty of imagination.

They can be placed almost anywhere, apart from dense shade, but they will make a strong, far-reaching root system in time, so should not be positioned nearer to any building or drainage system than 10m.

Virtually any variety can be used, although Salix viminalis (common osier) is possibly the best, as it produces long, straight shoots that are ideal for larger structures.

If you can’t find a local source of supply (many people like myself are happy to give away the wood that is removed when coppicing), these can be purchased from November to April from nurseries specialising in the production of unrooted willow cuttings (these can be found on the Internet and many advertise in gardening and farming magazines).

This is the time to start thinking about making a willow structure as although willow cuttings root at any time of year, they produce stronger roots during the dormant season, which gets the creation off to the best start.

If possible, use two-year-old growth for the uprights and one-year-old whips for weaving.