The pain of cutting willow and the joy of using it

There have been many clear, bright, days in December and January. The clarity of winter light causing the leafless trees to stand out in stark beauty against the skyline always makes me pause, gaze and marvel at nature. Throughout the day as the light and the colour of the sky changes, lightening then darkening again, the trees stand still and their shape and beauty is accentuated by the different tones and contrast.

It’s also the time of year to carry out traditional woodland management tasks like coppicing and hedge laying. It’s a perfect pastime providing exercise after the winter indulgences and in activity but there is also a sense of grounding and being at one with nature – setting the scene for spring and the start of a new growing year.

Over recent weeks there has been much wielding of billhooks by certain members of our household as some very old and straggly hedges have been laid in the traditional manner. It is very satisfying to see a hedgerow all neatly laid with neat cuts (pleachers) open to the sunshine ready for new growth as soon as the sap starts to rises in spring. The finishing touch to the perfect hedge is the bindings – the sue of long lengths of material woven along the top of the hedge t hold if firmly in place helping to make it stock proof until the hedge regenerates. I read recently that this was traditionally done with long lengths of bramble (with thorns removed) which shows just how our predecessors made use of every bit of material.

I must confess de-thorning brambles does not really appeal and hence my pain as I look at the beautiful straight stems of willow against the blue sky and know it’s time to start coppicing so that I can bind the hedge and make use of this season’s crop. The first cut is the hardest but as you make progress through the stand of willows there is an immense satisfaction sorting the willow and once the last stem is cut there is the beauty of the coppiced trees and the anticipation of next season’s growth.

The hedge has its binding, there are neatly tied bundles of willow sorted into different colours and lengths and there is the traditional willow ‘flower’ arrangement of coloured stems and even a few pussy willow in the living room.

Next job? Making some hurdles using coppiced hazel and green willow to act as rabbit fences around the herb bed.

Willow against winter sky

Willow against winter sky

Line of a laid hedge before bindings

Line of a laid hedge before bindings

Close up of willow binding

Close up of willow binding

Willow bindings on a laid hedge

Willow bindings on a laid hedge

Pleachers on a laid hedge

Pleachers on a laid hedge

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2 thoughts on “The pain of cutting willow and the joy of using it

  1. I have a potentially ignorant question. You said “hence my pain as I look at the beautiful straight stems of willow against the blue sky and know it’s time to start coppicing so that I can bind the hedge.” Are you using flexible willow stems as binding on a separate hedge? Hedging is something I don’t know much about but I find very interesting. Some pictures would help a lot!

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