This story first appeared in Triangle Gardener ~Helen Yoest
Most can not deny the charming appeal of woven English wattle edging; and do you know just how easy it is to make?
The craft of wattling was brought to America by English settlers, and even today in Williamsburg, the basket-weave rustic charm of wattle is used as a pedestrian barrier. But more than that, wattle can also insulate young seedlings by blocking wind and also elevate an otherwise ho-hum raised bed, into a bedded charmer.
No raised beds? Make them! Wattle can also be used on its on as a way to contain raised soil.
Traditionally in England, each February, willow trees designed to provide withy (the weavers), are coppiced (cutting limbs to stimulate growth), and once cut, withy re-growth are ready to use after two to three seasons. This re-growth provides suckers thick and long enough to use to wattle. As you can imagine, crafting wattle edging is the ultimate sustainable, renewable resource.
But that is where the tradition stops. The lore of crafting wattle seems to be a lost art in America. Why? I believe it’s because of the process of finding the wood. We aren’t in the habit of coppicing our willows to wattle. Today in the Triangle area, we are bringing back this craft with our own twist.
Don’t have a willow to coppice? Don’t let the lack of finding pliable willow limbs to wattle stop you. You can also use grapevine or wisteria, plus other supple vines.
I have the good fortune to work with Zac Hackney, culinary gardener at Fearrington Village in Carrorboro. Before Fearrington, Zac was one of the vegetable gardeners at Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello. Here, Zac learned the lost art of wattling, and provided these charming objects for the Charlottesville, VA living museum. Fearrington Village is now the beneficiary of this craft, and so do you!
Sales—Upright stake. Any odd number of sales can be used, depending on the length or tightness of wattle. Hard wood is a good choice for the sales. Keep in mind, if you use willow as sales, it might take root and come alive. It will turn out stronger, but you would need to trim it each year.
Weavers—wisteria, grapevine, forsythia, and yes, even willow. Any supple, long, straight, slender saplings make good weavers. Newly cut, green wood is best and easiest. The saplings you choose should be long enough to weave around at least three stakes (preferably more) for stability. Because the withies are woven horizontally, a fence can be as low or as high as your posts will allow.
Strip green off sales and weavers.
Sink the longer two end sales 50% below ground with the other 50% above ground. For the shorter odd number in-between the end sales, sink 1/3 deep and the tops equal to the end sales.
Note: The length is what you choose, but it’s easiest to work in three to five foot sections. Too short and they don’t have the same appeal; too long, and they weavers become difficult to use. And the height can be whatever you desire. Our example is for wattle edging, sunk at equal intervals. They don’t have to be though, the spacing can vary for different effects, but for our efforts, we spaced our sticks three inches apart. three foot 12 tall.
Start weaving two sales from the end then start back to the end sale and weave by alternating sides. Continue to alternate. To know you are doing it right, the middle sales will flex from one side to the next as the weavers pass through. The weavers are woven around the sales like basketry. The simplest weave is to weave each row of saplings alternating around the stakes, the next row is woven on the opposite side of the stake from the sapling below it. This is why an odd number is necessary. Each sapling row should be firmly pressed down.
When you finish one overlapping, go back two sales (as in the beginning) to begin the next weave. This will help stabilize the weave.
When finished, the end is just tucked in.
If using wisteria, don’t worry about it taking root. As long as it isn’t used as sales, but only was the weavers, it’s not likely to generate growth. Expect your wattle edging to last three or four years.
At home, I grow muscadines. When it is time to do a major pruning in January, they will be saved for weavers. Now, every time I see a vine I see future weave for wattles I want to craft in the gardens I work. I hope you do too!