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The possibilites of living willow structures?  RSS feed

 
Brian Bales
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I'm possibly going to install a living willow fence in my front yard. In researching this two things have struck me. 1, why are there not more of these fences? I cannot recall ever seeing one in person. 2, what other possibilites present themselves in willow structure sculpture? I could not find a single real structure designed to serve a purpose beyond kid forts. Could you, for example, build a living stable to keep animals? How about a barn or a shed? I cannot imagine a greener building than one that is alive.
 
Nicholas Covey
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Location: Missouri/Iowa border
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I personally am a big fan of living fences and structures. I think a lot of it has to do with our "instant gratification" society we live in. To grow and shape something takes both patience and skill. Most people have neither and opt for something plastic or metal to put up "instantly."
 
Burra Maluca
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I have no experience of this, but foresee possible problems with animals chewing the bark of the living branches if you put them in a living stable.  There may be some way round this though, but probably best to give it some consideration before you put the animals in there.
 
Mekka Pakanohida
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Location: Zone 9 - Coastal Oregon
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PapaBear wrote:
I'm possibly going to install a living willow fence in my front yard. In researching this two things have struck me. 1, why are there not more of these fences? I cannot recall ever seeing one in person. 2, what other possibilites present themselves in willow structure sculpture? I could not find a single real structure designed to serve a purpose beyond kid forts. Could you, for example, build a living stable to keep animals? How about a barn or a shed? I cannot imagine a greener building than one that is alive.



Time is usually the factor for why people do & do not do things. 

Willows though are very greedy for water.  Making a living wall out of willow where pipes go into the building to water animals would be a huge problem.  Willows love water, they are greedy for it.  They will break through pipes constantly over years.  Something to think about when designing a structure.
 
                          
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I read in a book that hawthorn was twisted when young to make a fence.
If hawthorn grows in your area, it would do well.
It makes 1 inch thorns and excellent though small berries, which happen to be a herbal remedy good for the heart.

jeanna
 
                                    
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Location: Anoka Sand Plain, MN Zone 4/5, Sunset Zone 43
 
Kathleen Sanderson
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Location: Near Klamath Falls, Oregon
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I think that one reason you don't see many living fences/structures is because people move so often.  You really have to be planning to stay in one spot for generations before you are going to be willing to invest that much time and energy into a project. 

That said, my ex has made a living fence for part of his place.  He just used the young trees of various kinds that had naturally grown up between the garden and the road, and bent them and wove them together.  He started that probably fifteen years ago, and now I don't think it would be possible to separate the trees.  Don't know how animal-proof it is, as I haven't seen it since I left New Hampshire.  It would be difficult to make anything goat-proof unless you used something they won't eat (osage orange?), and chickens can go through small holes or fly up into the branches, but it shouldn't be too difficult to fence sheep, cattle, or horses that way. 

If you want a picture, PM cedarlili (she's my DD and is living with her dad).

Kathleen
 
Roger Merry
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Why "living fences" thought we called them hedges ?

Willow, especially woven looks great and is (if youre in the right climate) really fast growing - trouble is its so fast growing you yield masses of willow each autumn that you have to cut back - basically only use them if you have goats to eat all the browse. !!

The best is - what I thought most people did anyway - a "fedge" thats a cross between a fence and a hedge. Start with the minimum short term fencing your requirements call for and plant a mixed native hedge along it. Climbers and scramblers cover the fence in the first season and the long term structural plants take over as the fence rots away  over an approx 5 year period.

Best thing I ever did was learn traditional hedge laying - if you see a course definitely take it  stock proof / vandal proof hedging is easy ..................... it just takes a few years 
 
Toby Woodbury
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Location: Wayland,Missouri
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In my area, Oldtimers say they plant a property line with hedge(osage orange) about 3 feet apart. They wait until the trees ar 6 to 12 inches in circumfernce then cut it off maybe a foot from the ground. In one season that stump will shoot up dozens of new branches straight up. Then they wait a few more years until those branches are 2 or 3 inches circum.  and cut half them off in front and back but leave the ones closest to the other hedges and weave the cut branches between the still living ones. Repeat for awhile and since hedge is very rot resistit and thorny plus the new branches that will intertwine on their own it won't be long before your hedge is "Hog tight and Horse high"
 
Patrick Storm
Posts: 38
Location: Malmö, Sweden
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Thanks for posting this. I've had similar thoughts inspired by vegtech.se.
An idea is to make a "shell" of intertwined willows around a building. These would be planted 4- 8 inches (1- 2dm) away from the wall and would then create a buffer of air and temperature between the building wall and the living willow. This has already been made with ivy. As it is evergreen, it still works in winter, which is a major + if you are on northern latitudes.

Other ideas include trellises for other plants. Let it grow the way you want it then either ring-bark the willow to kill it, or keep it alive with other things growing on it.

Just my 2 cents or whatever the expression is
 
klorinth McCoy
Posts: 101
Location: Southern Manitoba, Canada, Zone 3B
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Paddy82,

Very interesting idea.
Just make sure you factor in the increased or trapped humidity that will be in that air envelope.
One reason people can have early degradation of siding and window sills is from plants close against a house.

As long as you factor that in you might have something interesting.

Also remember that repairs to the building will be very difficult.
 
Patrick Storm
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Location: Malmö, Sweden
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Yeah I'm not sure how it works when it comes to humidity, but I'd bet you're right that humidity will gather there as well, and that one would do well in factoring this in when building. I'd say the choice of your wall material is important. Maybe you could leave a slit of about 10 inches of free airspace above the trellis (and not let it grow all the way to the roof) to leave room for the humid air to vent out when it warms with heat from the building.

When it comes to repairs- yes repairs would be more difficult, but then again damages might not be as common since you essentially have a regenerating, living "hull" around the building. So if there's ever a storm, the plants take the beating, and not the house. And then it regrows.

The version that seems to be most popular is a stainless wire trellis arranged as a netting on the walls on which the plants grow, that keeps the roots away from the actual wall which would otherwise cause damage. I know that some people go the extra mile and cover their walls with hard plastic or aluminium sheets- this is mostly when using other plants than ivy, that may have more aggressive root development.

Sorry this is borderline OT, but I think you could do the same thing with willow. And there's the added benefit that willow grows extremely fast.

Check out their site. Sorry, it's in swedish, but I'd gladly translate if it's not too off topic.

http://www.vegtech.se/sv/veg-tech-bygg/products/grona-vajern---vajersystem/uid-54/categoryinformation.aspx
 
klorinth McCoy
Posts: 101
Location: Southern Manitoba, Canada, Zone 3B
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Paddy82,

I am totally with you on the idea. I have always loved the look of ivy covered buildings.
You just need to do it properly.

I am planning to start installing trellises on our house this summer. The purpose being to add shade to the house. the thing is that I will be running the trellis about 24" away from the walls, from the eave straight down to the ground or possibly angled from the eave out a bit. I want a good amount of constant air flow behind the vegetation to encourage evaporation. Initially it will do nothing for the winter, but that doesn't really matter, summer shade is more important.

In our old house I had Hops growing in a couple of spots and it found every little hole or nook in the siding it could. Big problem if it wasn't for the fact that it was vegetative and not woody.
 
Scott Howard
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I have only a couple of tidbits to add.  There is a whole branch (no pun intended) of architecture called "biotecture", I believe the term was coined by a german man of the organization called 'biotekture partner'.

There are tons of living building in the world.  Willow, Hemp, Hawthorne, and many other species can be used in a technique called 'pleaching'  I believe, sometimes called 'espalie' (french sp?).  You tie two living pieces together and the wind causes them to rub on each other, eventually wearing away the bark in that spot so the tree must heal itself only by welding the two pieces together with new cells.  It's really ingenious stuff. 

I've made several sculptures out of trees I've woven in the woods.  But they require attention and maintenance and take years and years before they mature into nice sculptures.

Best,
 
Patrick Storm
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Location: Malmö, Sweden
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Just found http://www.biotecture.uk.com/
I've gotta read up on these cool things
 
Katy Whitby-last
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Location: North East Scotland
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I'm planning to make a field shelter for my horses from living willow. I reckon I'll need to keep them away from it for a year or so until it establishes but then I'm happy for them to nibble on it and self medicate. Once the willow framework is in place I'm hoping to add hawthorn and wild roses too for the berries and hips. The plan is to start on it this autumn.
 
John Polk
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This thread has gotten my imaginative juices flowing.  So many possibilities.
I already had dozens of ideas in mind, but now, I am thinking of a lifetime's worth of projects.  With time and patience, many projects can be accomplished with a budget near zero.
 
Dale Hodgins
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     Willow, alder and other easily bendable young trees can also be molded into furniture shapes. 1 inch alder can grow to 3 inches in diameter within three years. A Google search of "grow your own furniture"produces many photos and articles on this. This furniture can be used in the yard or harvested when the trees reach appropriate size.
 
Brice Moss
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having a bit of an issue getting my curly willow driveway screen going the way I want it, I plated the stakes las year and most of them produced bountiful shoots but the deer are browsing the tops and keeping it about 4 foot high (they are coming at it from the uphill side and don't seem interested enough to come at it from the driveway sid. so I need to find a way to keep the deer off.

I would definitely love a course in hedge laying
 
                        
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just a thought..green ash seems to grow almost as fast as willows do and their roots go straight down so they are less likely to interfere with plumbing and foundation than willow, which is notorious for travelling to pipes and breaking them. I have seen one or two hedges of green ash around here. The tree growing at my back door I have had to trim every year to keep from covering my entry and it isn't at all resentful. just puts out lots of little new shoots and tries again.

So..the other thing about green ash is that (at least mine) are terrifically easy to propagate..I have  some plants in pots and every one of them ends up with several sprouted green ash seedlings. I have been wondering how to use them, since I can't dig holes to transplant things and now have a plan!

Next year I am going to spread a strip of dirt along the fenceline and sprinkle the seeds along it.  I am hoping  enough sprout that I'll have to pull out some for reasonable spacing but the tree gives off thousands so that's not a problem. The soil over there is very sandy though and here it is clay, so may need to water them from time to time until they get themselves set. In potted plants I have found roots 6 inches long in a couple of month old seedling showing just over an inch above ground. The roots  have all grown straight down like a tap root, with short fine  feeder roots. The tree that was barely over a foot tall at my front door 4 years ago is now 8 feet tall and wide, so it should be easy to coppice them at an earlier stage to make a thick and healthy  living hedge.

Just wish I had thought of it 4 years ago!  (btw..the seeds that don't sprout seem to just disappear as do the leaves after they fall..the above description makes them sound like very messy trees and aside from maybe a week or so in spring and  fall, not so at all.)

Not sure if they have any other special qualities aside from just being a pretty tree.
 
paul wheaton
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Walter Jeffries
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We had quite large willows at my childhood home. They grew quickly and were quite pretty. When ever there was a bad storm they also broke very badly, shedding very large limbs, toppling and splitting entire trees. Don't be under one. They're a fragile wood.
 
Jennifer Quinn
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I found some neat examples of things people are doing with living structures and wanted to share:

Willow lodge


Tree Circle
 
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