I've realised reading other people's blogs that I've really no right to complain about the cold spell we're having at the moment. There are lots of people around the world gardening in much more challenging conditions and getting on with it.
I suppose, in my defence, we are in the middle of the longest cold spell here since the 1960s and if the forecast is to be believed - another two weeks of it at least - it's going to be the worst for a hundred years or more. Our local lake, Lough Graney, which is a pretty large lake - about 100 acres in area - is now almost completely frozen over which no-one can remember happening before.
Lough Graney almost completely frozen over
So, we're just not used to it, but day by day we're settling into a different routine. Normally at this time of year we'd be out pruning and doing other winter jobs and this time last year I was weaving my first willow wattle fence to protect my veg plot from the dog and the occasional deer and stray cattle that find their way onto our land.
It's great to see that a year on it's still looking just as good and has encouraged me to do some more adventurous things with the large amount of willow we have growing around our land.
The fence is a simple structure of uprights of trimmed three year old willow stakes driven into the ground with willow withies - one year old shoots - woven between them. It took quite a pile of withies to make this fence, but it's sturdy and animal-proof and should last a few years. The great thing is it didn't cost a penny and it gave me a great deal of satisfaction making it.
Most of the withies used were the common osier or basket willow, but we also have stands of a number of different coloured stemmed willows which I must make an effort to identify this year. One of them has beautiful orange- yellow stems which turn almost red on the side facing the sun.
I used these to make my first living willow fence. It produces lovely straight shoots six feet and more long which are ideal for the kind of lattice-work fence I wanted to create. This is the fence I 'planted' in March last year.
I say planted because holes a little wider than the withies are made at an angle in the soil with a thin metal pole and the withies pushed in to a depth of about six inches. Alternate withies are pushed in at opposing angles and they are woven into each other to create the lattice of sticks. The tops are tied to a horizontal withy to give some stability to the top and that's about it.
The withies root readily as the soil warms up and they come into leaf. I didn't lose a single one in this fence. During the summer any side-shoots are rubbed off to keep the lattice work of the fence clear of growth, but the top three or four buds are allowed to grow out. These shoots are trimmed back to the top of the fence in the winter - that's the next job I have to do on this fence as well as tie in some shoots along the top to provide a more stable fence.
After three or four years, the fence will look like this:
And after 10 or more years a well-established fence will look like this: