East Coast Gardener
     How to Plant A Living Lattice Fence

by Heather Sanft 

The first time I saw a living fence was in 1988 during a  basketry  apprenticeship in Sommerset, England. The basketmaker I was studying  with lived in a thatched cottage surrounded by rock walls and hedges and grew his own  willows for basketry. At the end of his kitchen garden stood a living lattice fence. At once enchanted by this fence, I  expressed an immediate desire to learn how to make one. I was invited to help make a living fence for a neighbor in a  village not too far away, which he was making in trade for cold frames. 

In 1993 I again visited this basketmaker at Villaines les Rochers in France (near Tours), where he had won a beautification award from the community for a longer version of a living lattice fence which swept the side & front of his property. Many people in this basketmakers village enjoyed the fence as they walked or biked by. On our farm here in Lunenburg County I have planted a group of living willow lattice fences, which any u-pick blueberry customer going to our northern fields passes through. Many of our thousands of visitors thrill at the fences and ask me  how and why I make these fences. Living lattice fences make a visually lush, yet open and beautiful resting place for hummingbirds & chickadees amongst other garden visitors. They look lovely as a backdrop to any kitchen garden or on either side of an entrance. These fences also offer a gentle wind break. 

To plant one of these fences some advance thought, as with most things, is necessary. 

Ideally you need 8-9 foot tall straight willows without any branches.Since this is rare unless you are growing your own willows in beds and have left them uncoppiced for 2 years, it is unlikely you will find them straight or without branches. Coppicing is a yearly cutting of the willows grown in beds for basketry. Therefore you will need finding, collecting and trimming time. Most people don't mind roadside/ditch gathering where you can no doubt find many willows BUT it is polite to ask any house nearby so as not to offend. Don't fret. I've been collecting along roads and ditches for years and people are usually both interested and kind. Wet and low areas, mixed amongst and near alders, are all good areas to find willows. You will need approximately 33 long willows for a 10  foot lattice fence. If you feel you need a straight line use 2 sticks and a string. We like a site with good soil & use seaweed to mulch in fall. Prepare the area by digging a narrow ditch 10 feet long in chosen spot. Turn the soil, put in some seaweed and manure, then replace and pat soil in place. 

To begin planting start on far left and plant willows at 45 degrees to vertical, with tips pointed to RIGHT //// and insert willow butt end (cut end) in the soil at least 4- 6". Continue inserting a new willow every 8 inches until the end of fence length. 10 feet is a nice length and should take 16 willows at 8" spacing. When completed begin again, at far right side of fence length and insert willows at 45 degrees to vertical, with tips pointed to LEFT \\\\ . The first willow will start on the outside and in front of the willows already planted and every other willow will be inserted at 8 inch intervals which should fall at the middle of the already planted willows and lay at the front of willows already planted (with right slant). It will probably take 15 willows. The willows will intersect at probably 6" above the soil. You might find that you want a vertical willow at each end to help with the weaving (optional). Stay on one side of fence only when weaving! 
To weave diamond lattice pattern keep in mind that the weave is a very simple over and under pattern. This means that all left slanting willows at the 1st intersection will be OVER all willows slanting right. These same left slanting willows at the 2nd intersection will be UNDER and at the 3rd intersection OVER and so forth to the top of the fence (see diagram). Begin gentle weaving over and under by starting from right side. You have to weave a few or more, part way up, and continue back and forth across  the fence, working the weave on all the willows as more of a group than individually. It is important to be gentle for even though willows are very flexible, a broken or cracked willow can die or bring disease to your hardefforts. It is best to replace any broken willows as you go rather than later after weaving is complete. The first summer the willows will appreciate a good watering daily, especially if it's a dry summer, until they get established You will need to prune the top flat and probably many side shoots AFTER the fence gets established (several months down the road). You will no doubt enjoy awaiting the new greenness and pussy willows of spring and the summer lushness that this fence will bring. Good luck and hope you enjoy all the joys of making and watching a living fence. 

People are welcome to visit Heather Sanft who has a degree in Anthropology & Museology from UBC. She is a 7th generation NovaScotian and proud Canadian.  Heather and her family farm highbushblueberries, raspberries, grapes and other soft fruits commerciallyand operate Lunenburg County Winery. They are establishing an acre"visitors garden and maze" during 1999 in which Heather will be planting both living willow  and woven  wattle fences.  Visit  Heather's basketry web site 

 Home to East Coast Gardener
Recent Issue Index