We have nearly 18 acres of willow beds here at Brampton comprising several different varieties. Most of the willow we use for weaving with are variants of S .Triandra – the ‘Rolls Royce’ of basket making willow. This type of willow is not only durable, but also unbelievably strong and flexible and it can be used for almost anything – even cross country jumps for Horse Trials!
The willow is grown on a bed system coppice and is initially planted in 2′ rows (about 18,000 cuttings per acre!). In the first year, each cutting sends up 2 or 3 shoots which will grow anything up to 8′ by September. It is then cut as low as possible in the winter and the following spring it re-grows sending up to as many as a dozen shoots. It is then cut annually and will grow anything up to two inches a day in July. Depending on diseases and pests, a well managed willow bed will thrive for 20 years or more. Robert used to cut it all by hand with a sickle hook but over the years, he has developed his own willow harvester which saves a lot of time (and effort!).
Once harvested, the willow is stacked on pallets to season. Before use, it is loaded into steel crates which are then immersed into large water tanks for about a week to allow it to be supple enough to work with.