Saturday, 29 April 2017

Where there's a Willow, there's a Way...

Yes! Fedge building again!

I love building Fedges - or should that be planting Fedges? *pause while I consider the question...*  Well, it's planting, obviously, as they are live plants - but there is an element of "building" as they have to be structurally sound, and they should have a pleasing aesthetic appearance. No-one wants a Fedge that flops over, or is lumpy and irregular.

As a reminder, a Fedge is a cross between a fence (dead wooden slats) and a hedge (live woody plants), made out of Willow,  which elegantly combines the best elements of both: it works as a fence to delineate and separate areas, creating a physical and visual break: but as it is a living thing,  it provides change throughout the seasons, with leaves in summer, often with catkins in spring, and a completely different look in winter when the leaves fall and you can suddenly enjoy the shape of it again.

It's created by planting rows of willow stakes, or wands, interweaving them so that they graft together to form a rigid, sturdy construction.

A Client from several years back contacted me a few weeks ago, and after some general gardening work and some design consultation, she decided to use a Fedge to split her vegetable garden extension from the rest of the garden. The idea was to enlarge the veg area, but without using heavyweight ugly fences.

This is where it starts:

We marked out the straight lines, I lifted the turf to remove competition for the new willow trees, and then we pegged out the water-permeable membrane.

Here's my Client, carefully measuring and marking where the Willow was going to go.

Having marked out the gaps, we then cut slits in the membrane, made a hole for the first row of willow, and pushed them firmly in - you need to get them at least a foot underground, to give them a good chance of rooting properly and being stable in the meantime.

Once the uprights were in place, then came the tricky bit, planting and weaving the diagonals.

It's not rocket science, it is mostly over-under-over-under but, like many things, it's not quite that simple, and it's worth taking a bit of time to get the diagonals all going at the right angle.

First we went from left to right, then from right to left... and lo! and behold, there's our basic Fedge.

Finishing touches include neatening up the top, so they are all more or less the same heights: and tying in the crossings, to help the stems to graft together. The sooner they graft, the better, as it gives the Fedge strength as well as stability.

The next step for my Client is to install a run of chicken-wire fence close to Fedge, to stop the chickens pushing through it into the main garden.

Here's a photo showing progress just two months later: you can see, the willow wands are all growing fantastically, and the Fedge already looks pretty!

The chicken wire fence is in place, and will have the added benefit of preventing the chickens from scratching around at the base of the Fedge (they will be on the grassy side), which might have damaged the growing stems.

Maintenance is minimal now: a bit of care with watering in the first year or two will help them to establish good roots, and there will always be the annual pruning in late autumn, where we will take off all the new growth, taking the Fedge back to the original framework.

For the first year or two, this autumn work is also a good time to look closely at the Fedge and check if any of the wands did not root properly: I often find that a couple of them fail to take off, in which case all you have to do is take one of the prunings, and weave that in to take the place of the one that died - you certainly don't have to go and buy more willow!

Best of all, as I always say when talking about Willow Fedges, in further years, the prunings will become bigger and stronger (they are often a bit thin and weedy for the first year or two) and can then be used to build more Fedges or other structures.  In this garden, we were thinking of creating a willow dome to be a playhouse: and I suggested making a second line of Fedge about a yard inside this one, but instead of making another upright Fedge, we could bend the woven wands over to make a low tunnel.

Think what fun the children, and the chickens, could have with a tunnel to scramble along!