Friday, 15 February 2013

Willows and Water



Willows growing by the local canal

The willow has to be one of the most beautiful trees in the landscape.  My favourite willow is salix babylonica - the weeping willow.  In summer, I love to see weeping willows by streams, trailing their leaves in the water, while this time of year, the branches, caught in sunlight, are a shining gold.  In folklore, the willow is a tree associated with grief and lost love (although the gift of a willow on a May morning is said to be lucky).  However, I associate willow with being young, because at home we had a large weeping willow in the back garden and it was wonderful for lazing under on hot days.  It's become, I suppose, the tree of my childhood.

With so many happy memories, I had to plant a weeping willow on the smallholding a few years ago - and now it's kept trimmed by the sheep, who love to chomp away at the lower leaves and branches.  A handful of willow is always a good bribe when I want the sheep to follow me somewhere - and we protect the trunk from them (as we do all our trees at risk) by using four wooden pallets tied together as a kind of shield. 

Cricket Bat Willow (Salix Alba Caerulea)

Cricket Bat Willow

We don't use willow on the smallholding, but it is grown locally to make cricket bats. Because of this, the cricket bat willow is a familiar and lovely sight in my area - and this water-loving tree is found along the banks of rivers, streams and the canal.  One local, family-run business, J S Wright & Sons (established in 1894) - is the world's largest and oldest company supplying English cricket bat willow. Salix Alba Caerulea is suitable for cricket bats because the wood is tough but light (in contrast, say, to the weeping willow, where the wood is too dense and heavy).

Mini Cricket Bat (signed by the English team playing the First Test in 1953)

Watermark Disease

Watermark is another tree disease - and this one is a problem for cricket bat willows.  It's a bacterial disease which, it is believed, can be transmitted by birds or through root systems.  It certainly makes the tree useless for cricket bats and although some trees have been known to recover, other trees have been felled locally when the disease has been discovered.


Watermark Disease
A Willow Basket

I've always loved hand woven willow baskets and a couple of years ago David and I spent some time hunting around for one. David wanted it to use on a daily basis, so it had to be large enough to take some of the stuff he carries around with him and robust enough for him to sit on when he has a break out in the fields and woods (basically so he doesn't have to sit on wet ground). The hunt came to an end when we were on holiday in Cornwall a couple of years ago because we met a basket maker there who agreed to create a basket for us that met these requirements. So here it is; it's a beautiful but strong object that has really stood up well to outdoor life.

Our willow basket




With thanks to local business J S Wright & Sons for the information and photographs of the cricket bat willow and watermark disease.

10 comments:

  1. The basket is beautiful! My brother in law and his wife do a bit of willow weaving. we're hoping to ask them to make us some replacement baskets for fruit and veggies in our larder at some stage as the ones we have are getting a bit sorry for themselves.
    It's a marvellous tree - I too have a "childhood related" soft-spot for the weeping variety too!

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    1. Thank you. I'm a little bit envious that your brother in law and his wife can make these beautiful baskets for you. And I recently realised that my childhood weeping willow has been the backdrop to lots of family photos, so it really does hold memories.

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  2. Lovely basket - I really enjoyed two basket-weaving courses I went on last year and am about to embark on making a couple of baskets without tuition, using willow harvested from my son's new qarden in Devon. Nothing strong enough to sit on, though!

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    1. Thank you. Now I really am quite envious if you make these baskets yourself - and harvesting your own willow for them will make them very special. I'm still amazed that our basket doubles as a seat; but it's certainly strong enough.

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  3. I have similar childhood memories of lazing under a weeping willow, and I still love to see them smothered in catkins. I have inherited three contorted willows, which are making a great feature, and we have some other sort of willow next door in the park - a little too close to the house, to be honest, but hey, the surveyor wasn't worried... Beautiful basket.

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    1. Thank you. I love contorted willows; they look good in all seasons. And I know what you mean about a tree being a bit too close; we have a young oak like that and I just hope that we'll always be able to live with it.

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  4. That is a beautiful basket Wendy. We had a lot of willow at our last house, and I always wanted to have a go at weaving. Sadly, I never did. And no willow here, unfortunately.

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    1. Thank you. We were delighted with the basket, after having just submitted a few ideas. And watching the basket maker at work was fascinating; it's a wonderful skill to have.

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  5. There was a willow in this garden when we first came here and we decided to keep it - there was a craze way back when everyone wanted one in their garden. When I kept goats they used to love all the trimmings when we pruned it back. Love the basket - it is reminiscent of a fishermans basket which I know they sit on whilst fishing.

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    1. Thank you. I hadn't thought about the fishermen - but it's true, baskets like these often have more than one practical use in traditional work. And, until recently, there were lots of willows in the village where I grew up. The gardens were big and the houses were small; but, increasingly, its becoming the other way round - and so there is less and less room for trees.

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