Living Willow Arbour

I’ve always wanted one since I saw a pretty sweet-pea clad one in the vegetable garden at Cranbourne Mannor in Dorset - but had no idea how to go about it.

So Richard came in full waterproofs and armed with bundles of willow all different lengths. Rather than just leave Richard to get on with it we decided to make a hands-on workshop of it, so he taught me, my 12 year old daughter and my 8 year old nephew, all be-decked in waterproofs which were suitably muddy by the end of it - there’s a fair bit of kneeling required.

It all felt very primeval – making mans first shelter - we could have continued our weaving  to make a fully enclosed structure and then line with leaves or covered with a few animal skins we have just lying around…


Here’s what we did:

  • marking out the circle


  • tucking & digging in the edge of the weed suppressant membrane with a spade, a real knack to this, that Richard does in a blink of an eye, it takes me longer to master, so I only do about a quarter of one circle  in the time it takes Richard to do both sides.
  • Making the holes – rather like a fairground ride for the kids- jump on and wobble it!

willow weaving

  • Pairing up the longest willow and putting them in the holes, these will push out roots and anchor themselves in the ground, and live and grow. You can start to see the shape of the structure now.
  • Tying them together – in the whole structure Richard only used 2 tiny pieces of rubber string to hold 2 crucial places together, and even these can come out once it starts growing. It is remarkably flexible and strong, tying thinner pieces like string is possible.


knot willow

  • Now the basic arch shape is in place - then the weaving starts to hold it all together. These pieces of willow are shorter and will not grow as they are not in the ground – we have 3 layers of this.


  • Once you have the hang of it  - it is very satisfying, really absorbing all your concentration to get the ‘over & under’ and the ‘front & behind’ right. A lovely rhythm happens.
  • Now for the diagonal crosses – these are tricky, you have to really concentrate and almost work backwards, my 12 year old easily got the hang of it, she is at the age when learning new things is easy, while I was counting out loud – ‘1,2,3, infront, behind, infront, behind and into the ground!

    • The diagonal crosess remind me of the tracery in gothic windows, a beautiful elegance of shape and form, all in our muddy devon garden.
    • muddy willow

    • Taaadaaa! All finished – love it, we’re going to put a bench inside and I know it will be my perfect spot for a cuppa tea, as I plan my next willow weave project, yes it is addictive. There’s no stopping me now – I plan to weave low level border ‘fences’ all around my veg patch, and who knows what else will remain un-weaved…

Contact Richard at:

But hurry if you want one built this Spring - as its been so mild the willow is starting to root already.