About Living Willow
Living willow sculpture makes use of the characteristics of green i.e. freshly cut willow rods, to easily take root when pushed into soil in the winter months. The willow is cut when the tree is dormant; the sap is down and the leaves have fallen, and the nature of willow means that it readily sends out roots with very little prompting.
The rods are coppiced between 1 and 3 years old generally, depending on the form and strength of the structure that they are intended for, and are stood in water or left in a damp place until needed for use. Come the spring, root growth really takes off, ready to support the new leaves and withies as they develop.
A willow stool can be cultivated from a single foot long stick of fresh willow, and depending on variety and species, can yield up to 30 or more rods each year for harvest. There are beautiful fine withies for basketmaking, maybe only 2-3mm thick and rods good for building living tunnels and fences and dens, which can grow more than 10 foot in a year and which are thicker than your thumb.
When making a den or living structure for a project I like to combine several different varieties of willows as the colours and catkins vary enormously – as well as what each variety is most useful for, and so a school can grow its own willow for art and craft activities by annually coppicing their outdoor structure in the winter.
In the summer a willow den is cool to sit in, and contemplative, with leafy shade, making a peaceful place to sit, or a place to hide or play.
In winter, the colours of the bark reveal themselves and in early spring the catkins come before the new leaves, to begin the cycle again.