Willow whips in the boggy bit

I guess just about everyone around here knows what to do with that old bath that’s come out of the renovated bathroom: put it in the field and run a field drain into the fellside where the spring is emerging, so that it can be a reservoir for grazing animals if they wish. But don’t forget to leave the plug in, of course.

And our old tub has been in position for a decade at least now. Meanwhile, the run-off below has been increasingly colonised with spart grass (well, they don’t call it Sparty Lea for nothing!). As readers of the poetry that’s been attempted in these pages will know, that boggy bit has been the target for the planting of willow whips for about a month — indeed, poetic licence meant I could envisage the planting without actually doing it, as yet.

I’d mentioned in a diary item some time ago that I’d been investigating the purchase of a few score of green willow whips, and Norma Spratt kindly replied that she and Doug would be trimming their willows (planted in a similar style a couple of decades ago) sometime on a crisp and cold autumn day, and I’d be welcome to take such cuttings as I could carry away to ‘plant’ in that target area. Well! The precisely apposite day dawned last week, and I was delighted to cart off a hundred whips or so from Doug’s cutting labours.

Two days of ‘planting’ efforts later, and the job was done. I put the word ‘planting’ in inverted commas because it wasn’t so much planting as jamming the sticks into the water-logged ground. One beloved gardener friend of mine sucked his teeth and said that this was not the strategy he’d adopt, and yet Norma has had experience of these rampant willows rooting themselves in a bucket of water! So a bit of a bog shouldn’t give them any pause. We shall see, if we can keep them from predation, of course.

We have a large collection of pale, translucent protective sleeves which were just mouldering in the shed, along with any number of unused bamboo canes from a previous hedgerow planting exercise, so I put them all to good use again, against those pesky rabbits and their gnawing teeth. And behold! A double column of about 50 whips on each side of the little incipient brooklet.

And so, a sort of meandering willow glade could conceivably emerge, from what really is rather a minimal sort of dilettantish effort, as nature is left to take its course. With any luck, those growing willows will soak up the run-off in our field, and at the same time might just provide an enchanted space for the grands to hide in, creating their own fantasy adventureland. They might even get a bit muddy in their adventure.

And that, for me, is what rural life is all about.

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