Welcome to the Secret Garden South of Bobber's Mill Bridge in Nottingham

Welcome to Windmill Community Gardens, home of the Climate Friendly Gardeners Project.

We are a group of local people, who are nurturing a wonderful community garden in the heart of the city. You'll find us just South of Bobbersmill Bridge, on the allotment site at the South end of Ascot Road. The Gardens are a great place where anyone can come to find out more about growing their own food in a changing climate. We cater for all abilities and welcome any nationality or age group.

Why not come and join us?

Thursday 6 February 2014

Magic Wands

Willow is amazing stuff. Cut a stick of it, poke the bottom end of it into the ground, and it usually grows. If a willow falls over, the whole tree will often root in place, with the side branches becoming trees in their own right. If you cut it down to the base it will throw up loads of long, thin, straight stems - it's called "coppicing" and creates a "coppice stool". If you cut the tree off above head height, it will do something similar, but with the added advantage that grazing animals won't be able to reach most of the new growth, and this is called "pollarding". In times past, the new stems made a massive array of household and building items that we've now replaced with plastic and other non-renewable alternatives, but willow is still coppiced and used for far more than just baskets. If that weren't enough, the bark makes great string, and can even cure your headache, as it's the source of aspirin!

Preparing to do a little magic...
At Windmill, we grow quite a lot of willow. It's in the borders, and we are gradually cutting it back to use for fuel. It's not the best fuel wood, being fairly low calorie compared to many, but if it is well dried, it does the job, and it's what we have, so we use it (though we are also starting a hazel coppice too). Each year, we cut enough to fill the wood shed, and then use it once it is dried for firing the oven, rocket stove and fires. The coppiced and pollarded trees are re-growing with wonderful long stems that are great for all kinds of things, like the new woven bed-edging that we have made for the herb garden. Today, Lizzy and Chris cut more willow to renew the other 2 herb beds, so we are making sure that we use this wonderful renewable wealth to the full.

Chris and Lizzy using the saw horse.

Because of the coppicing, we've also made the discovery that some of the willow on site is "Black Maul", as a few of the willows produced new growth that is dark-purple or black and wonderfully bendy. It's clear why it was always a great favourite of basket makers. It's not the only colourful stuff we have - in the sensory garden, we have 2 coloured willows grown from cuttings taken from Geoff Hamilton's garden at Barnsdale near Rutland Water (we bought them - honest!). One is a glorious buttery yellow, with orange tones in places, and the other is a dark orange red. If we keep cutting them back every year before the buds break, we have a fantastic display of brightly coloured new growth each Winter, and a wealth of cuttings for growing new ones. True to their family, they root almost as you put them in the pot!

Black maul, gold and red willow cuttings
ready to grow.

Added to the fun you can have with willow, is the chance to make living structures. At Windmill, we have a fedge (a living willow fence, not a "fudge", despite what auto-correct wants me to write!), and a willow archway. They were both started with cuttings pushed into the ground. The fedge has grown quite well, but the archway didn't take properly (it is close to the path and in fairly shallow soil, and was put in during the drought year, so not in ideal conditions). For both, now is the time to look after them, so today we set to, ably assisted by a crack-team of Guy, Hassan, Mark, Laurence and (Rosy who was returning for a visit with her dog Gus - we've missed them both!).

A wrecking bar helps to dig deep,
narrow holes for the willow poles.

First we cut some really long, strong rods from the new growth on the fedge, and used these to create the framework of a new archway. Then we added short willow rods in between the long ones. These are more likely to grow than the really long rods, so they can eventually be trained to make the arch as they get taller. The long rods had to be tied together with a top support to keep them steady. Then we tied extra supports to the sides of the arch, and finished it by weaving willow to stabilise the whole structure and make it more rigid. The willow that had rooted from the first version of the arch was left in place and tied into the new structure.

Long and short willow poles together.

Long poles make the structure,
short ones grow to replace it.
Adding the top support to the archway to strengthen it.

Being well established now, the fedge needed different treatment. The remaining rods of new growth were pulled down to the horizontal, and woven into the fence-line to thicken and strengthen it. These rods will now in turn grow their own long, straight poles in the coming year, and so the fedge will keep getting stronger and thicker.

Weaving last year's growth into the fedge.

Whilst we were having fun weaving, Joyce, new Chris and April were doing a great job potting up last year's cuttings from the gooseberries and blackcurrants from the builder's bag bed, and also putting in cuttings of the coloured willows (make sure the cuttings have their buds pointing upwards, and try to get at least 20cm of a 30-40cm cutting into the ground). Now we have loads of lovely plants all ready for sales and give-aways in the coming months and will hopefully have even more next year.
New volunteer Chris potting up
last year's fruit bush cuttings
April helps to put up the blackcurrant
and gooseberries now they're rooted.
Everyone's hard work was rewarded with piping hot omelettes, stuffed with garden produce and a cheat ingredient of bottled pasta sauce (well, it is February!). 

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