Creating a willow structure is environmentally friendly -- and fun

by: COURTESY PHOTO - Anna Lund stands near her willow villa holding a drawing by Robin Johnson, which predicts what the finished product will look like.It’s easy to walk, run or bike on by right now, but in a few years the section of Forest Grove’s B Street Trail sandwiched between young willows will be a green getaway, a shaded canopy, a secret retreat from the bustle.

Anna Lund calls it the willow villa. For her Pacific University senior project, she planted willows on both sides of a small section of the trail, watched them grow — and teased and weaved the branches into a chain-link pattern.

Five to seven years from now with continued weaving, the willow branches will grow tall enough to form a dome shape over the trail.

“It will be a community space — an outdoor learning center,” said Lund, who plans to put benches under the eco-dome when the time comes to welcome groups and classes. “I hope it will be used and enjoyed and admired by park-goers and provide inspiration to people to make their own.”

Lund says willows grow three to seven feet in one year. “They’re very regenerative,” she observed

Lund harvested willow branches in the winter, when they were dormant. She used a rooting hormone on them and planted them in the ground.

by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: STEPHANIE HAUGEN - Lund weaves the willows together to form the shape she wants. Willows are native to the Pacific Northwest, so they’ll grow pretty easily here, Lund said. But she recommended testing the soil ahead of time and, if possible, avoiding a really rocky area — such as the old railroad grade she had to plant on.

Water the willow the first one or two years, but after that the plant will sustain itself, she said. Lund places cardboard on the grown and covers it with mulch to keep weeds down and maintain moisture.

Harvesting willow from wetland or river areas, where they naturally occur, makes the plant more attuned to the area, as opposed to buying willows, Lund added.

Wait to weave the new summer growth until the winter, when the willow has lost its leaves. Lund went with a crisscross-overlap pattern, but there are many ways to do it.

A willow branch’s flexibility, durability and long spindly shape make it perfect for manipulating.

Willow can also be used to make baskets, trellises, fences and other woven art forms. by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: STEPHANIE HAUGEN - The woven branches of the willows will fill out, and in a few years will make a solid wall.

Inspired by the book Living Willow Sculpture, Lund started the project in 2011 and has been babying it ever since. She’s planning to return in the winter from her position with AmeriCorps doing habitat restoration work with the North Olympic Salmon Coalition to weed and weave — and eventually to move back to Forest Grove permanently.

by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO - Woven willows usually stay put.“It’s eco-art. I hope it allows people to see nature in a different way,” Lund said. “A lot of people don’t think twice about passing a tree every day, but I hope people see the potential of nature and the ways you can manipulate nature to be beneficial to humans without harming the Earth.”

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