Willow weaving garden obelisk

Back in spring I tried my hand weaving willow plant supports for the beans and squash in the garden. They turned out OK, functional at least, but to honest you’d have to call them ‘rustic’. So this weekend I went on willow weaving workshop with Jay Davey of Musgrove Willows.

It was a great day all round, Jay was a brilliant teacher and the staff were really helpful and friendly. Jay’s been working with willow for 20 years having created projects for RHS Chelsea show gardens among other high profile pieces.

We started the day running over the basic techniques for weaving obelisks. The mistakes I’d made on my own were quickly apparent. You can learn so much from Youtube these days, giving us the ability to learn almost anything we want, but I’m a big advocate of learning skills first-hand from an experienced teacher. Having someone show you in person, and help you in the areas you struggle just can’t be matched.

After lunch, Jay showed us some more advanced techniques and demonstrated just how versatile willow is. We then had the opportunity to experiment – I remembered that traditional, woven fish traps follow almost the same form as a garden obelisk. I grew up fishing and have wanted to make one of these since I was a child. So scaling down the jig and materials, Jay helped me set to work. I still have the funnel at the opening to complete but they were kind enough to send me home with some materials to finish the job.

Top willow weaving tips from the day:

  1. Use plenty of upright stakes, we used 13 for the obelisks – previously I used too few and it made the weaving gaps too large which created a poor, loose weave.
  2. Use the right length of willow for the task. The larger the gap the longer the length of willow you need.
  3. Make sure the stakes are a thicker material than the weaver, otherwise the stake will bend rather than the weaver.
  4. Keep the gaps between the stakes even as you weave up. Often stakes won’t be completely straight so as you weave you need adjust them by twisting, or pulling the stakes. You can also make sure they bow outwards rather than in with the same method.
  5. Learn how to start the first weave at the bottom, locking it in place and then making a complete loop of twists around the obelisk to keep the stakes securely in place.
  6. When making twists to lock the stakes in place make sure both weavers are the same thickness otherwise the thinner will just ben around the thicker piece.
  7. If you cut fresh stakes and push them into the ground they’ll take root – this can be prevented by stripping the bark from the section in the ground.

A big thank you to Jay and the team at Musgrove Willows – I learned skills which will stay with me for the rest of my life and hopefully I’ll be able to build on them in the near future. I highly recommend checking out both Jay and Musgroves websites and booking a course if you’re interested in learning more.