to Plant A Living Lattice Fence
by Heather Sanft
The first time I saw a living fence was in 1988 during a basketry
apprenticeship in Sommerset, England. The basketmaker I was studying
with lived in a thatched cottage surrounded by rock walls and hedges and
grew his own willows for basketry. At the end of his kitchen garden
stood a living lattice fence. At once enchanted by this fence, I
expressed an immediate desire to learn how to make one. I was invited to
help make a living fence for a neighbor in a village not too far
away, which he was making in trade for cold frames.
In 1993 I again visited this basketmaker at Villaines les Rochers
in France (near Tours), where he had won a beautification award from the
community for a longer version of a living lattice fence which swept the
side & front of his property. Many people in this basketmakers village
enjoyed the fence as they walked or biked by. On our farm here in Lunenburg
County I have planted a group of living willow lattice fences, which any
u-pick blueberry customer going to our northern fields passes through.
Many of our thousands of visitors thrill at the fences and ask me
how and why I make these fences. Living lattice fences make a visually
lush, yet open and beautiful resting place for hummingbirds & chickadees
amongst other garden visitors. They look lovely as a backdrop to any kitchen
garden or on either side of an entrance. These fences also offer a gentle
To plant one of these fences some advance thought, as with most things,
Ideally you need 8-9 foot tall straight willows without any branches.Since
this is rare unless you are growing your own willows in beds and have left
them uncoppiced for 2 years, it is unlikely you will find them straight
or without branches. Coppicing is a yearly cutting of the willows grown
in beds for basketry. Therefore you will need finding, collecting and trimming
time. Most people don't mind roadside/ditch gathering where you can no
doubt find many willows BUT it is polite to ask any house nearby so as
not to offend. Don't fret. I've been collecting along roads and ditches
for years and people are usually both interested and kind. Wet and low
areas, mixed amongst and near alders, are all good areas to find willows.
You will need approximately 33 long willows for a 10 foot lattice
fence. If you feel you need a straight line use 2 sticks and a string.
We like a site with good soil & use seaweed to mulch in fall. Prepare
the area by digging a narrow ditch 10 feet long in chosen spot. Turn the
soil, put in some seaweed and manure, then replace and pat soil in place.
To begin planting start on far left and plant willows at 45 degrees
to vertical, with tips pointed to RIGHT //// and insert willow butt end
(cut end) in the soil at least 4- 6". Continue inserting a new willow every
8 inches until the end of fence length. 10 feet is a nice length and should
take 16 willows at 8" spacing. When completed begin again, at far right
side of fence length and insert willows at 45 degrees to vertical, with
tips pointed to LEFT \\\\ . The first willow will start on the outside
and in front of the willows already planted and every other willow will
be inserted at 8 inch intervals which should fall at the middle of the
already planted willows and lay at the front of willows already planted
(with right slant). It will probably take 15 willows. The willows will
intersect at probably 6" above the soil. You might find that you want a
vertical willow at each end to help with the weaving (optional). Stay on
one side of fence only when weaving!
To weave diamond lattice pattern keep in mind that the weave is a very
simple over and under pattern. This means that all left slanting willows
at the 1st intersection will be OVER all willows slanting right. These
same left slanting willows at the 2nd intersection will be UNDER and at
the 3rd intersection OVER and so forth to the top of the fence (see diagram).
Begin gentle weaving over and under by starting from right side. You have
to weave a few or more, part way up, and continue back and forth across
the fence, working the weave on all the willows as more of a group than
individually. It is important to be gentle for even though willows are
very flexible, a broken or cracked willow can die or bring disease to your
hardefforts. It is best to replace any broken willows as you go rather
than later after weaving is complete. The first summer the willows will
appreciate a good watering daily, especially if it's a dry summer, until
they get established You will need to prune the top flat and probably many
side shoots AFTER the fence gets established (several months down the road).
You will no doubt enjoy awaiting the new greenness and pussy willows of
spring and the summer lushness that this fence will bring. Good luck and
hope you enjoy all the joys of making and watching a living fence.
People are welcome to visit Heather Sanft who has
a degree in Anthropology & Museology from UBC. She is a 7th generation
NovaScotian and proud Canadian. Heather and her family farm highbushblueberries,
raspberries, grapes and other soft fruits commerciallyand operate Lunenburg
County Winery. They are establishing an acre"visitors garden and maze"
during 1999 in which Heather will be planting both living willow
and woven wattle fences. Visit Heather's
basketry web site