29 February 2020
I have just found a new way of passing the time during a storm which is fierce enough to persuade me to stay at home i.e., practicing my new found ‘skills’ in willow work. One of the advantages of this work is that electricity is not required. I am also growing all of the materials so I don’t even have to buy anything. Salix do well here and many grow very quickly with some reaching eight to ten feet of growth in a year. I planted a number of different varieties when I moved here simply to get quick sections of shelter. I was not aware of the varieties in colour or flexibility so it is by luck that I have three or four colourful willows which are also very flexible and useful for creating willow structures. I am determined to learn how to use these throughout the garden in both an attractive and functional way.
To date I have been tying pieces of willow together and sticking them in the ground to provide support to peas and beans. They are surprisingly functional but do give the appearance of a witches’ coven or a scene from Macbeth. For this reason, I attended a morning lesson in making willow garden structures just before Christmas. It has not all been all plain sailing though. Left handedness is supposed to be associated with creativity. However, no one ever said anything about manual dexterity and coordination.
‘I am not quite sure how you did this’ and ‘I have never seen anything like this’ were words that I often heard from people who tried (and failed) to teach me to knit when I was a child. This was usually followed by ‘I am not sure how to undo this’. I suppose I could see my unusual knitting results as a sign of creativity, but as the objects were neither functional nor finished it rather defeated the purpose. So, it came as no surprise when I heard the exact same words when I first attempted to learn how to make a willow plant support for my vegetables. I struggled to keep all of the instructions in my head and no matter how often I was shown how to do it I could not work out how to add a new cane to the structure. My very patient teacher unravelled my mistakes without a word and reassures me that once it was in my ‘muscle memory’ I would have no problems. I thought she was very kind but as am still smarting from my failure to learn how to knit I am not optimistic.
My first pea/bean support. It looks a bit ‘wonky’ but I hope it will be sufficient sturdy to do the job.
I was even luckier to be able to arrange a further lesson on willow coppicing and preparation for myself and my neighbour followed by a lesson in creating a garden cloche. The fish above was used as a short lesson in simple weaving. I used my lovely yellow and red Salix Chermesina and am actually quite proud of the results. I spent much of storm Jorge adding to my fishy collection and now have five. I am beginning to think that this may be the answer to my Christmas present dilemma. Not only could I give everyone I know a fish this year but if I use a different colour willow each year, I could solve the present problem for many years to come.
My garden cloche. I am rather pleased with this but am reluctant to subject it to the elements at the moment and am keeping it in the house where I can admire it. My patient and talented teacher is Rosemary Kavanagh of Wild Rose Basketry.
The other benefit of willows is that they produce beautiful catkins at this time of the year. Those on the Salix Chaenomeloides ‘Mount Aso’ below have now changed from a deep pink to pink, yellow and black and provide colour in an otherwise dull landscape.
This lovely Salix below was given to me by a dear friend. Sadly, she died a few years ago but it is a lasting memory to her. I have not identified it yet but as it grows up to ten feet a year it is perfect for creating quick shelter.
This is another willow being blown about by Storm Jorge. It was in the garden when I arrived and has probably been here for thirty years or more. It and its partner have been shaped by many years of storms. I have removed a few branches over the years but have left it alone otherwise. I like its shape and it provides shelter to the new planting in the copse beyond. I may have to take action this year as it is covered in a black substance which may be damaging it. However as this attracts thousands of wasps in the summer, I will consult an expert before doing anything.
3 March 2020
Years ago, I stayed with friends on an island in the mountains of Norway. I was horrified to hear that the lakes had to have yearly treatment to protect them from the pollution from central Europe. There is one advantage to living on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. Most of the winds travel across thousands of miles of ocean before they reach this small island. Not only does the air feel clean but the garden has features that indicate that it is.
Lichens are seen as bio indicators or measures of clean air. For this reason, I am delighted that some of the trees (the whitebeams) in my copse are covered from head to toe in those that indicate the purest air. The alder and oak trees also have lichen but it is less prolific. The birds use it for their nests and I presume that this means it is also warm.
One of the trees in the copse.
The Lichen is also very beautiful and easy to see when the branches are bare.
12 March 2020
The stormy weather continues. I am amazed that it does not deter the birds from feeding from the planters on the drive. Pheasants, Blue tits, Goldfinches, Chaffinches and Bullfinches, are just a few that make daily visits. The instructions on the bird food suggest that Robins need to be fed on the ground as they can’t use feeders. While I have followed these guidelines, this has not stopped those here from stuffing themselves inside the feeders with only their tails visible. I always knew that they were friendly but are also clever into the bargain.