|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 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.
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.