Quick growing and producing lots of flexible stems, willow and hazel trees offer a plentiful supply of natural material that you can work with in the garden. You can use the stems to make supports for climbing plants, to weave into screens, hurdles or edging – even create stunning sculptures.
Read on or watch our video to discover how to make a handsome hurdle, step by step, and you can use the same technique for many willow structures.
Willow and Hazel Garden Structures
Both willow and hazel have a long history of use in all manner of garden structures. In order to encourage the long, straight stems required, the trees are periodically ‘coppiced’, when the stems are cut right back to a stump to encourage replacement shoots. You can buy ready-to-work-with bundles of hazel or willow stems. Or you can grow your own, cutting stems back to a stump then allowing new stems to grow in their place.
Willow grows quickest and produces highly flexible stems that are ideal for weaving. Hazel stems tend to be a little thicker and make excellent beanpoles.
Fences made from willow hurdles look stunning and help to filter wind rather than deflect it, avoiding the damaging eddies sometimes found near the base of solid walls. They can also be used to create handsome screens hiding less attractive parts of your garden such as a composting area. Lower woven hurdles make very pretty edges to raised beds, though bear in mind that close contact with the soil will reduce their lifespan.
Weaving a Willow Hurdle
To make a very simple willow hurdle, start by hammering thick sticks – at least one and a half inches (4cm) in diameter – into the ground to form upright posts. They need to be really firmly anchored into place, with the two thickest sticks positioned at either end. If necessary, you can whittle the ends of the sticks to a point so that they pierce the ground more easily.
With your uprights in position you can begin weaving. For our project we’re using bundles of young, thin willow stems. Fresh stems, or ‘rods’ are flexible enough to use immediately, while older stems may need soaking in water for a day or two to soften them up.
Begin weaving by laying the first rod down and weaving it in and out of the sticks, so that the position of the rod alternates between being in front of an upright then behind the next. Now add another rod, this time weaving in the opposite direction.
To hold the end upright posts in place so they don’t fall away, you’ll need to tie them in. Select an extra-long rod for your next weave. Weave it in then flex the thinner end of the rod around the final upright and weave it back into the hurdle. Tuck the end in. Then repeat the process for the opposite end. Feed in another rod and flex it back around the upright, weaving it back on itself and tucking it in.
Continue adding rods, alternating the weave to create a good, solid finish. Firm up the weave by occasionally tapping down the rods so they’re nice and tight against each other. Every few rows, tuck the end of the rod back in on itself, twisting it around the end upright and weaving it back into the hurdle. The final two rods should also be tucked back into the weave to create a tidy finish.
To complete the hurdle, either trim any protruding rods so they are flush with the ends, or carefully twist and weave them back in. And there you have your finished hurdle!
Making your own hurdle is a really fun project. If you decide to give this a go, do let us know how you get on. Or perhaps you’ve got another way of using willow or hazel that you’d like to share. If so, please add it by dropping us a comment below.