Sunday, June 21, 2009

Willow Construction - living fence and arbour

Yesterday we hosted a workshop on living fences/natural willow construction. Even though it was raining, we had a great turn-out of about 15 people who worked away at constructing an arbour and a woven wattle fence - both which can be rooted in the ground to create "living" structures. We also discussed wattle-hurdle construction which goes back to the Neolithic age (originally used as moveable sheep pens, huts, fences, roads, fishing and still used in basketry by weaving thin branches or slats between upright stakes). Above are some photos of the workshop and finished product.

Our workshop facilitator had harvested a large amount of green willow from a site on the outskirts of the city where a new subdivision is going in (and since the land is getting cleared he didn't feel he was overharvesting a sensititive area) and kept it soaking in buckets of water, trimming off any green shoots or leaves, until the workshop date. He mentioned there are thousands of varieties of willow, which easily cross and hybridize, so it's almost impossible to be completely certain what variety of willow we have - they also come in a wide range of beatiful colours: shades of brown, rust, red, green, yellow tinges, black, etc. There is a useful website where many of these varieties of willow can be ordered as seedlings ready for planting. Willow grows so easily and quickly that it is ready for harvest in only a season or two, and it can be coppiced (cut all the way down to the ground, to allow long straight shoots to emerge perfect for cutting). The site also categorizes the willow into those types best of basket weaving, furniture building, fence building, and so on. Check out Blue Stem Nursery, in British Columbia at:

Other good types of wood for traditional rustic furniture construction include ash (durable, not flexible - good for handles); aspen (young saplings best); birch (great for besom brooms); cedar (best for fence posts); oak; dogwood; sumac (good for intricate bends, very flexible); and of course willow (best for bentwood, and weaving). Common vines include honeysuckle and grapevine for decorative weaving.


  1. The pieces created in your workshop are beautiful, especially the arbor. I'm working on a wattle fence right now. Having no ready access to willow, I'm using a variety of saplings; my favorite to work with so far is maple. It'll be kind of non-uniform looking, but I love it!

  2. Hi,

    Nice pictures, being a new blogger, I would like to tell you that you have given me much knowledge about it. Thanks for everything.

    Fence gate Repair