Making willow sculptures is fairly straight forward for everyone to do, but it does help if you have a good visual memory and spatial awareness.
I started because I’d been pruning some honeysuckle and trees in my parent’s garden about 15 years ago; this was well before the advent of green recycling bins and so I didn’t know what to do with all the twigs. In the end I made a cow and then a sheep because I pruned next door’s contorted willow and it sort of looked like wool.
It’s possible to make sculptures from green willow; I used prunings from a willow maze. This was autumn in the middle of a newly planted orchard.
Though I used green willow, I stripped the bark off the bottom so it wouldn’t grow when placed in the soil to support the sculpture, but I could have used ash or hazel branches instead. You don’t need to use a lot of willow either…this was winter from the same set of seasonal sculptures…mainly a bundle of twiggy and spiny branches with a bit of willow holding it together. Good fun, although it didn’t last long. Most willow sculptures decay after two or three years.
When creating a sculpture I usually draw myself a quick plan of what I intend to create with some rough dimensions. Then I make a base shape out of whatever I can get my hands on (here it is some sort of conifer)
and then finish off with basket making willow that has been soaking for a couple of days (without bark) or a week (with bark). In this sculpture the shell was basket making willow and the snail bit was from cut branches of a dark-stemmed twiggy willow (I thinned the bush rather than coppicing it) I noticed growing where I was working at the time. You could make sculptures with cut dogwood stems as well as willow.
If you are making animals then do try to add a bit of movement to your willow work – too neat a finish can look a bit clinical and static.
Having said that, there’s a limit to how dynamic you can make a hedgehog.
And be inventive….try something different.
I usually leave the living willow structures for dens or for play areas. This was one made in a reception class garden.
Two of the three dens are linked by a tunnel that varies in height so even the little ones have to duck. I was told that the larger den area was great for play; it could be used equally happily for role-playing assemblies or just spaceships.
But dens can also be made from (non-living) basket making willow. Here a den in a community garden has a framework of iron rods (from the DIY shop) and is shaped as a snail shell to form a feature for the garden, but with a hole so children can stick their heads through…I tested it on a passing small child to make sure it was just the right size.