Saturday, January 21, 2012

Weaving Willow & Hazel

Bonne Journeé!

Hello readers of Eat.Travel.Dive. - Back in the loft in Carcassonne, relaxing and enjoying the cosmopolitan vibe; I’ve just had a lovely hot chocolate with Chantilly cream and toasted almonds whilst sitting in La Place de Carnot. 

I am going to talk about weaving willow and hazel.  I’m going to post this here, and link it to the Queen Sophie’s Chateau facebook page also.  I reckon a few more hits onto their page might inspire more people like us to offer our services/experience/professional skills in exchange for a cultural working experience plus an opportunity to travel more (which we all love, right?).  PLUS it’s a pretty interesting project to renovate a Medieval French Chateau – maybe in the strangeness of this universe, you might see an opportunity for you?

“Why would a diving, travelling foodie want to talk about weaving?”

Well, as we’ve been travelling (especially so during our workaway experiences), Winnie and I have been acquiring new skills that we want to share with you all.  Learning is key, new skills can take us anywhere..but more powerfully, sharing is caring.  Maybe you might want to do some weaving in your garden?

You see, the journey we’re on keeps changing and as one road leads to another it kind of reminds me of the ebb and flow of life.  While we’re busy doing one thing another opportunity either pops up, or something happens that diverts you for a while – like us leaving Egypt early.  That took us home to the UK (and family) for Christmas, which led us to plan an extra workaway adventure here in France to fill a gap we had for January.  On this trip to France we have been blown away by scenery, worked hard doing various tasks at the chateau, and most of all we’ve been educating ourselves in new areas.  Travelling to us has always been more than taking pictures next to famous landmarks.  We do that too, but we prefer to get under the “skin” of a place to feel the true vibe and culture.

At the start of this French experience I spent a few days in the garden, picking (and eating) fresh almonds (YUMMY!!) from the Almond Trees post windstorm – whilst Winnie worked indoors, organising and raking the dead leaves, tidying the garden up, removing (and deciphering) the weeds from the crops, and finally learning to prune rose and willow trees. 
I sustained a few cuts from the rose thorns it's true, and I got whipped in the face more than once by the wild willow branches blowing about in the breeze (reminding me of scenes from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets), but I actually learnt something.  Pruning and shaping your garden’s trees can have a real impact on its aesthetics, but can also dramatically make a difference in the quality of the tree as it grows year after year.  The healthier your tree is will determine how pretty the blossoms are, and how well it grows in the long term.

My Disclaimer:  I am completely 100% a total novice/beginner gardener, with no previous time spent (except watering Winnie’s parents’ plants back in Australia) in the garden.

Pruning the Willow Tree, with assistant Prince Guilhem
What I talk about next is based on my own experience here at Chateau St Ferriol and that is all… But trust me, it’s worth a read, even if just to entertain you!!

So after pruning all of those willow tree branches, leaving only a few main branches reaching for the stars, I organised them into piles.  Anything less than a metre or with very thin branches got chucked to one side.  Other larger branches and thicker branches were piled to the other.  In previous years, Queen Sophie and King James had worked very hard at creating a traditional herb and vegetable garden to the rear of the chateau’s courtyard.
Traditional Circular Herb Plantations

The Herb garden follows a distinctly traditional circular plantation, whilst the vegetable plantations are within raised soil beds.  The raised beds have been achieved with rudimentary/simple weaved hazel, creating large rectangular carcasses which the soil is then loaded into.  

Before - Hazel Carcasses
Queen Sophie asked me to take the larger willow pile and have a try at improving the weave, and make the beds less holey.  So, I put my artistic hat, and my engineer’s wig on and carried a small pile out into the garden.  

Now, with no real introduction to weaving or into the use of willow I got the hang of weaving pretty quickly!  I was enjoying this quality time in the garden, being creative and applying my knowledge of structures to weave the orange-tan coloured willow in with the older grey looking existing hazel carcass.  My enjoyment and relaxation was in such a great place that I was told to come inside as the sun was going down…

Concentration on the tight, small basket weaves
Initial weaves
Winnie having a go.
During dinner I discussed the possibility of using some of the smaller branches (which were going to be thrown away) as inter-weaving strands to further strengthen and fill the veggie-bed’s gaps further.

End of Day 1...still work to do..
The next morning I put this theory into practice and begun my new assault on weaving.  If I’m being totally honest, I essentially removed most of the existing carcass weave and re-worked it to suit the new idea.  Being given this freedom of work was enlightening.  I totally re-worked the weave and entwined small branches with the larger willow and hazel branches.

Relaxing work
Adding in the thinner flexible willow branches
I used the more rigid and less flexible hazel branches to weave a rough shell, then used the larger and thicker willow branches to weave between the hazel.  Finally, the slow part… I weaved the smaller, thinner branches of willow to weave (like a basket) areas that were sparse or with gaps, or in those areas that would need additional structural strength (corners, lower sides or near weave joins).  I spent hours pruning the branches back, removing unnecessary parts and preparing all of the various parts; followed by many more hours weaving each piece in by hand. 

The weaving needs to be tight and be able to stay firm.  This work needs you to be patient with yourself.  Focus your mind on the outcome (what you’re going to achieve) then work in the willow, hazel and your imagination until you get what you’re looking at in your mind’s eye.  If you see gaps, and have spare medium, small thin (or even the bendy) branches, you can interweave them into a strong “basket style” that is strong.  You are essentially wasting next to none of your pruned trees and recycling pretty much all of it.  If you have a composting system, you could throw the unused small pieces and off-cuts into it thereby recycling 100% of what you’ve pruned.  An eco-solution to fit your new eco-garden!

Hand working the willow
Weaving the corners for extra strength
This was a truly relaxing and rewarding endeavour.  Looking at the before and after photos, then thinking about what I’ve learnt I have a new skill that I can apply to my future garden or to assist friends with their herb gardens, and offer a solution to raise flower beds and provide a method of increasing the soil humidity to produce, I’m told, better quality crop. 

Willow weaved into Hazel
Weaving the larger willow branches
Nearing Completion - Willow and Hazel Weaves
Adding the final touches....
The finished product!
View from above :)
I think about it, I do have one particular friend who has recently started down growing his own veggies and herbs.  I’m hoping to prune and cultivate his experience, plus listen to his stories about his garden…. Maybe one day WinGaz will have their own version of a herb and veggie garden?
The Backyard!

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