The house sits at the top of a south-facing slope that was originally quite steep and sandy. We planted strawberries and a cherry tree there quite soon after moving in, and the ground was raw and unstable. I tried stacked rock walls and haybales and had some success with the resulting terraces, but nothing seemed to keep the whole hillside from sliding into the path at the bottom of the hill every spring.
Five years ago I purchased (one) basket willow clone from Fedco, Maine’s garden co-op. In a year it had produced enough rods to start a living fence along the bottom of the hill (the silvery, long-leaved growth at the right in the picture). Around the same time my black pussy willow developed borers, and I had to cut it back. I started a second run of fence with those rods (the darker green foliage). The fence uprights took right off in the sandy soil and by the second year I was busy weaving them back into themselves to make a fairly solid wall. Meanwhile, the original basket willow was producing almost more than I could handle, and I started a second set of fencing halfway up the hill to give us a path to actually pick strawberries instead of crushing them beneath our feet.
It is full on pouring rain today, so I’ve been busy weaving sections of the fence back into itself and taking hedge clippers to the part that no longer needs reinforcement. We have had plenty of moisture so the new rods are at least two feet long – three or four feet in some places. I’ve gathered a good many rods to start a new fence. . .somewhere.
My favorite example of live willow fencing is from the folks at Brampton Willows. They’ll come to your yard and install hurricane-proof, wonderfully sinous garden structures. I like the “furry” look, so mine are only stripped of their leafy covering in the winter and not nearly this beautfully organized. There is something similar, though, in how they hug the contours of the landscape and the sense of permanence. This is a fence made of living tree, and it’s not going anywhere.