It’s been a while since I’ve written I guess I can blame putting all my energies into More than Willow but that is another story and a happy one too.
We have been waiting for spring to appear and it seems to have been just around the corner for ages. All of a sudden the bees, the call of the chiffchaff and fresh green shoots are all evidence that winter is almost over.
But despite eagerly yearning for spring and watching for signs once again I have almost been caught sleeping. The horseradish which should have been dug up and processed months ago was harvested just before the first leaves appeared and the horseradish butter is safely in the freezer. The last of the parsnips have been harvested too so last night’s parsnip mash with horesradish butter was a winter treat – to celebrate spring?
The very last stands of willow were cut last week and though there was no sign of leaf on them stools that had been cut in January have teeny tiny shoots appearing – isn’t nature wonderful?
So skipping with spring in my step I am off outside to enjoy the sunshine and with stout gloves on gather nettles to make nettle cordial – a first for me and one that I will report on when complete.
There have been many clear, bright, days in December and January. The clarity of winter light causing the leafless trees to stand out in stark beauty against the skyline always makes me pause, gaze and marvel at nature. Throughout the day as the light and the colour of the sky changes, lightening then darkening again, the trees stand still and their shape and beauty is accentuated by the different tones and contrast.
It’s also the time of year to carry out traditional woodland management tasks like coppicing and hedge laying. It’s a perfect pastime providing exercise after the winter indulgences and in activity but there is also a sense of grounding and being at one with nature – setting the scene for spring and the start of a new growing year.
Over recent weeks there has been much wielding of billhooks by certain members of our household as some very old and straggly hedges have been laid in the traditional manner. It is very satisfying to see a hedgerow all neatly laid with neat cuts (pleachers) open to the sunshine ready for new growth as soon as the sap starts to rises in spring. The finishing touch to the perfect hedge is the bindings – the sue of long lengths of material woven along the top of the hedge t hold if firmly in place helping to make it stock proof until the hedge regenerates. I read recently that this was traditionally done with long lengths of bramble (with thorns removed) which shows just how our predecessors made use of every bit of material.
I must confess de-thorning brambles does not really appeal and hence my pain as I look at the beautiful straight stems of willow against the blue sky and know it’s time to start coppicing so that I can bind the hedge and make use of this season’s crop. The first cut is the hardest but as you make progress through the stand of willows there is an immense satisfaction sorting the willow and once the last stem is cut there is the beauty of the coppiced trees and the anticipation of next season’s growth.
The hedge has its binding, there are neatly tied bundles of willow sorted into different colours and lengths and there is the traditional willow ‘flower’ arrangement of coloured stems and even a few pussy willow in the living room.
Next job? Making some hurdles using coppiced hazel and green willow to act as rabbit fences around the herb bed.
Willow against winter sky
Line of a laid hedge before bindings
Close up of willow binding
Willow bindings on a laid hedge
Pleachers on a laid hedge
It’s been a week full of many meetings, a growing number of end of year deadlines which are creeping closer as is Christmas and a mind that seems to be getting very busy. That’s why an afternoon outside in the fresh air under the clear blue sky gathering goodies for a creative morning in our local village hall was the best medicine that could be on offer.
I spent the whole afternoon cutting willow, dog wood and ivy as well as trimming branches off our enormous Christmas trees and pulling wild hops out of the hedgerow. The trailer is a treasure trove of goodies ready to be taken up to the village hall in the morning.
The final joy of the day was creating a few example Christmas rings with willow, ivy, and teasels as well as giving the advent ring, created very quickly in the semi dark last Sunday, a bit of a facelift.
Tomorrow’s ‘event’ is something I have never done before but I just wanted people to come together to use their hands and create something natural to take home to start their Christmas and who knows perhaps they will feel as much benefit from the morning as I have gained from preparing for it.
I also hope to raise some money for Crisis at Christmas
Update after the event…
We raised £50 for Crisis and had a fantastic morning with 17 people creating beautiful rings out of natural materials.
Early new year’s resolution to organise more craft events in the village!