Pruning season is here, which means that many of us will quickly accumulate a small mountain of superfluous sticks. At my house, many pruned branches are given a second life as woven wattle fences, plant supports, and twig towers for growing vines in containers. If you’ve itched to make natural structures for your garden, pruning season is the best time to try.
Expect to be successful, because you will be practicing a building art used in tree-rich terrains around the world for more than 6,000 years. Today, exercising your creative muscles by weaving wood into fences, trellises or other plant supports will result in beautiful, functional items for your garden that are free for the making.
Best Woods for Weaving
Hardwood trees produce stiff wood that is difficult to bend, but small, straight pieces of any wood can be used for posts, as shown in the low fence at right. For the horizontals I used the longest sprouts saved from apple pruning.
Indeed, it has been my experience that as long as the sprouts or whips are only one year old, even maple makes a good wood for weaving when used fresh. The peas in a planter (see photo) were supported by hoops and stakes provided by a maple stump that produced a flush of sprouts every year. Rather than curse them, I put them to good use.
Serious wood weavers are attracted to species known for their usefulness and productivity. Common hazel, Corylus avellana, will mature into a multi-stemmed tree, 15 to 20 feet (5 to 6 m) tall when allowed to grow freely. But when cut back close to the ground (coppiced) every few years, the straight stems that regrow are unsurpassed for making long-lasting wattle fences.
Willows used for basket-making (Salix purpurea and other Salix species) are quite pliable after the osiers (long, slender sticks) have been soaked in water for a few hours. I grow a few basketry willows myself, and they have proven to be very low-care plants that produce an abundance of rods and osiers for making twig towers – my favourite project involving weaving wood, explained in more detail below. If you have plenty of material, willow sculpture is a possibility for ambitious weavers of wood.
One of the best things about willow is that you can harvest, sort and store the branches in a dry place, so they are ready to use in any season. A long soak in water is required to restore their pliability, but having a store of willow on hand makes it possible to craft natural garden structures in any season of the year.
Making Twig Towers and Wattle Fences
One of the best projects for beginners is a twig tower, which is constructed in a large flowerpot or planter at least 14 inches (35 cm) wide, filled with potting soil. First nine or more upright rods are inserted around the inside edges of the pot and fastened together at the top with wire or cord. Then, a spreader ring made from wire or wood is pushed up inside the tower as far as it will go and fastened in place. The spreader ring exerts pressure on the uprights that pushes them against the inside walls of the container. After more slender osiers and bits of vine are woven around the tower, it becomes surprisingly stable. I usually keep new twig tower in its container the first year, and gently lift it out and move it to the garden for a second season of use. Then it becomes compost.
A tightly woven wattle fence panel, or hurdle, can last a little longer if it is pulled up and stored through winter. Valuable for blocking wind, shading roots, and screening views, woven wattle hurdles can be permanent or portable. The permanent version is easiest to make, because you simply pound about five stakes into the ground and start weaving osiers, keeping the weave as tight as you can. To make a panel you can move, make a runner board for the base, with holes drilled through it for the upright stakes.
Whether permanent or portable, it is easier to fasten together small hurdles than to create very long ones.
But why not start small? Put a few small sticks to work as wickets to protect plants from accidental injury. Tie together pruned grape vines to make a rustic wreath. Next thing you know, you will be making one-of-a-kind natural structures for your garden that work as good as they look.
By Barbara Pleasant