My willow sculptures when placed outdoors often prove to be attractive to nesting birds, last night I noticed that a wren has recently built its mossy nest in this old willow flower on the east facing end of the shed.
I am secretary to the Shepton Mallet Horticultural Society and for the last 3 years we have been propagating snowdrop Galanthus ‘Magnet’ by chipping. Our 3 year old chips have started to flower this year and were planted out in front of Highfield House, James Allen’s former home.
James Allen was the first person to start hybridizing snowdrops in the late 19th Century and Shepton Mallet Horticultural Society are aiming to make the town famous for the snowdrop again.
The last of the pruning is done, working from a ladder I thinned the growing tips of the trees to ensure the leader is clear of side shoots. The plant hormone auxin is produced in the growing tips creating cell elongation in plant cells (extension growth). Removing side shoots allows the auxins to be most concentrated in the tip of the central leader therefore encouraging fast growth in height.
It is a good idea to get the tree to grow to its full height as quickly as possible, once side branches get established low down then they divert sap from the leader.
At Christmas I was given an arc welder, the tool filled me with both fear and opportunity however it remained in its box until an interesting commission landed in my inbox on 8th January; “Could I make an 8 foot high willow wine glass?” Well actually yes I can, what great timing, I kitted up and got practicing with the welder.
To my surprise another commission came through soon afterwards; I have a large 2D willow apple (about 3.5m diameter) in the hedge of our orchard on the A37 and a lady wanted a smaller one (1.4m diameter) to put up on a large indoor wall. A simple metal frame using 6mm steel rod helps this otherwise quite delicate design.
I am working on an exciting yet challenging project – a front line sea-side garden at Burton Bradstock in Dorset. Last year I visited the site on a lovely summers day, this week when I returned, storm Imogen lashed at the sea and land alike, it was good to be reminded of the power of nature.
I have yet to start the planting plan however I do not foresee any large plants in the front garden, although there is an existing 1.1 metre high wall to provide a tiny degree of shelter. To add to my challenge, there are rabbits on site too!
It has stopped raining, we have blue skies, frost and sunshine – what a delight. I have emerged from my office and the warmth of the woodburner to start pruning the orchard.
Day 1 I made a good start, pruning 86 trees in four hours. Starting with the youngest trees (aged 4 & 5 years) I aim to create space around each branch and a gentle taper in the central leader with a good framework of near horizontal branches.
On day 2 I reached some older trees (7 years), tall and dense with a good framework of branches, surprisingly I did very little to these, cutting out one or two whole branches near the main stem to encourage a more uniform taper.
Most of the trees in the orchard are too tall for me to reach the very top where some of the leaders need ‘clearing’ of side shoots (removal of competition and thereby increasing the auxins at the main growing tip of the tree), I will have to come back with a telescopic pruner.
I enjoy formative pruning, it is a bit like puppy training – establish the rules early then reap the rewards thereafter. It is a very rewarding job, unlike fruit thinning which went on for weeks and weeks last June.
In summary our young orchard of 450 trees produced 4560kg of fruit in the autumn, all of which was made into cider.
A couple of weeks ago I found myself in a small clearing in the middle of a forest amidst a medley of exciting experimental buildings. I was at Hooke Park in Dorset, an educational facility owned by the Architectural Association and set in 150 acres of working forest.
The buildings were particularly interesting because they combined innovative architectural design with the use of forest thinnings, timber not usually considered of economic value. Other cheap materials such as fabrics were widely used too.
It just so happens that I am in the process of designing a tractor shed for our old Leyland, now I am seeing all timber buildings with new eyes and am having to revisit my designs.
The visit to Hooke Park was followed a few days later, although only coincidentally, by a film and discussion at the University of Bath on Frank Gehry (Sketches of Frank Gehry – a documentary film by Sydney Pollack). I have visited the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao twice and each time this massive sculptural building has not failed to impress me however the buildings in the wood also defied the need for straight lines, were more modest and more achievable.