Willow has become my favorite garden construction material. The willow retaining wall, or “withy”, that I put in 10 years ago has become a lush green wall that provides erosion control, shelter from drying wind and cold air flow, and bird and insect habitat on the abrupt slope by the side of the house. I keep it pruned to 3′ – 4′ and what was originally a single file of uprights is now a twisted mass more branch than space with a caliper of 4″ on some of the foundation trunks. I came home too late to take photos tonight, but tomorrow is a day off and I’ll repost.
The withy is wonderful where it has enough space but I’ve been leery of starting one in the main garden. I need room around it to easily prune it back (I’m pretty wild with the big shears), and it gets big fast even in Maine. Then a few weeks back a friend showed me an old woodcut illustration of a garden with what looked like large baskets overflowing with herbs. The “pots” had been started as baskets made of green willow with the uprights staked into the dirt, and allowed to grow in place. It seemed like a great idea!
I cut enough basket willow to form the uprights for a semicircular “basket” backed up to a tree trunk. I try to cut the branches at an angle for ease of pushing them into the ground, and remember to orient them the way they were growing.
Then I wove the uprights into themselves to form the basket. I used string to tie them in place at first but as the weave gets thicker the ends stay where you put them. Then I lined it inside and out with mulch hay to cut down on weed competition.
I filled the inside of the basket with a layer of rotten firewood, bark, then hay, then soil, and planted my new flowering (and fruiting) quince. I hope the recumbent form of the shrub isn’t as overwhelmed as it might be by starting 2′ above ground level.
Now to wait for Spring, and “Crimson and Gold”.