As a flower grower, I work happily in the rain, the cold and the searing heat, but if there's one thing I can't bear it's the wind. The flowers aren't that keen on it either. Protected from the wind, flowers grow taller and stronger. Windbreaks are essential.
We're not far from the Somerset Levels, where the landscape is perfect for growing willow. A few years ago I visited our local willow-grower, packed the van with rods, or "withies", and set about building a few fedges. The word fedge is a portmanteau from hedge and fence. Within a few weeks, they were sprouting well.
Five years on, they have thickened up nicely. As well as making great windbreaks, tall enough to protect even the leggiest of sunflowers, they provide us with several crops. In early spring comes the pussy willow, with its soft cotton buds. After cutting the side shoots for bouquets, we then cut the long withies which grow from the top of each fedge and stack them for weaving.
The fedges quickly start to shoot again and it's not long before there's enough greenery on them to use for foliage. During the summer, I occasionally trim the new growth from the bases to reveal the pattern of the stems but mostly just let them do their thing. By autumn the shoots across the top are a couple of metres high again, perfect for weaving Christmas wreaths.
I love the fedges in early spring when they're all gnarled wood and zingy new growth, but they're at their best on the occasional late afternoon in winter. Time it right and you may be lucky enough to catch the sinking sun light them up like a glorious bonfire.
If you want to grow a willow fedge, it's best to plant in early spring. You'll need a bundle of withies - these can be bought online. Push the rods into the ground about 30cms apart. They need to go in at least 15cms deep. I alternated vertical rods with two planted at an angle and crossed over. I then twisted the rods together at the top to make an upper edge. Don't be scared to tie the withies so they stay in the pattern you want - eventually they will grow into each other and stay there.
Words by Jan Waters of JW Blooms
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