This is a living willow dome I built on 17th March – just 8 weeks ago and am really enjoying watching it come to life. Its a great den for the children, mine are only 14months and 4years but I built it so that an adult could stand up in it because I didn’t want them to outgrow it too soon. I love its shaggy almost wooly appearance now and I’m fascinated watching it develop.
Willow is fast becoming my favourite plant – it’s diverse, very versatile, robust and vigourous. Most importantly it roots easily – living willow rods are rather like giant cuttings! A thirsty plant – willow also helps to dry up and stabilise boggy areas which are otherwise difficult to use.
After doing a 2 day course and hours and hours of research, I discovered that there are almost limitless shapes, sizes and styles of living willow structure. ‘Fedges’ are a type of living fence which look perfect in a cottage garden setting, you can make furniture, climbing frames, tunnels, arbours, even art – the sky (or the soil rather) is the limit. Regarding domes; there are some basic kits you can buy online to give you a small round den and then there are artistic onion shaped domes, and elegant gothic domes made by craftspeople.
You can buy the willow rods via mail order, these are available roughly from oct – march while the plants are dormant (without leaves). The willow canes are then trimmed the bottom and pushed 6 inches into the ground to your desired layout and secure by weaving and tying. Actually this can be fairly strenous work with the longer stiffer rods. But once the hard work is done you can sit back and watch it grow.One of the exciting things about willow structures is how they evolve as they grow. You can either weave the young shoots back into the framework or prune them to suit. Each year the woody stems will become stronger and thicker and can fuse together where they connect. You can even use the new shoots to create living knot and ties for maximum strength.
A word of caution though – Willows are hungry, thirsty plants – do not plant them near drains or too close to buildings. Living willow structures can be pretty high maintenance depending on variety, site and design – expect to prune them at least once a year.