Creating Vertical Elements in the Garden

Four years ago, I started a small willow nursery for personal use. I got willow cuttings from my friend Michael Dodge who owns Vermont Willows. I also bought 12’ foot willow rods to make a living willow tunnels for my chickens; an escape for my girls in case a bird of prey gets the wrong idea. The chickens love these dense structures that have the added benefit of providing some cool shade. Now my willow nursery stock has matured I have harvested 16’ foot rods, and started to build the willow structures I have always wanted to make.

Willow structure completed and hops tied to it.

Willow structure completed and hops tied to it.

This summer, I made the first of the large willow structures or garden obelisks. My garden is still young and lacks verticality and these structures provide an instant vertical element.

For the first structure I detained a golden hop that had been traipsing along the top of a retaining dry stone wall and devouring a bench every summer for a few years. No surprise, the hops loves the upright structure, and within two weeks has pretty much covered it. My second structure replaced a sickly Taxus cuspidate- pyramidal yew, part of an alley of yews that leads down to the pond. This 10’ foot willow structure keeps the architecture of the alley, but adds an element of surprise. A Lonicera sempervirens ‘John Clayton’- trumpet honeysuckle will cover the structure in a few years.

Two weeks later the hops has covered structure

Two weeks later the hops has covered structure

I decided to make one more large structure 12ft this time, in a lower border and repeated the golden hops. At the end of an open valley, we have strong westerly winds so I buried re-bar rods and tied the top for added stability.

My next project is to make willow fences or ‘wattles’ around a few evergreen trees to protect the lower part of the trees from munching deer.
I will post my future projects as I achieve them.
Once my willow stock has been replenished I will make these structures available to local gardeners.

Completed 2nd structure 10' foot tall

Completed 2nd structure 10′ foot tall

Detail with honeysuckle

Detail with honeysuckle

12' foot structure

12′ foot structure

View of structures in the garden

View of structures in the garden

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11 Responses to Creating Vertical Elements in the Garden

  1. Brilliant idea to create willow deer guards for your evergreens—very practical, but I’m sure they will look good as well. The structures are fabulous—amazing how quickly the hops can come on, isn’t it?


  2. Don, I really like what you’ve done. Great idea to start the willow nursery, great idea to transform the rods into such lovely structures.

  3. Tami says:

    I’d love to see what the chicken tunnels (chunnels?) look like now.

  4. Kackie says:

    I love seeing what you are doing with the willows-your craftsmanship and enthusiasm are an inspiration!

  5. Sonia Dodge says:

    These structures are wonderful – we’d love you to come back up here to Vermont and give a workshop next summer. Every year we discover more artistic ways to create whimsical arrangements with salix both living and dry. Love your garden.

    • Don Statham says:

      Thanks Sonia, Maybe I could combine that with a nursery tour of Vermont. I keep hearing about what great nurseries for unusual plants there are in your state.

  6. Deirdre in Seattle says:

    What kind of willows are you using to get 12′ rods?

    • Don Statham says:

      The list is long. I would send you to Michael Dodge’s web site Vermont willows. He breaks down willow types for purposes. Most shrub willows will reach a height of 12′ foot. Best Don

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