When Ann Whittal, National Wool Museum curator forwarded information to the Natural Dye Garden Group from Jules Wagstaff about the possibility of installing two willow seats in the NWM grounds, it seemed too good an opportunity to miss. Two weeks later on Tuesday 26th February six members of DFGC joined Jules at the museum to undertake this hands-on project. The weather was ideal for the task.


Initially Jules talked about the growth and harvesting of the large colourful variety of willow rods she had brought from nearby willow beds, answering many questions along the way.


Care and thought were given to where the seats should be positioned. Once the exact location and orientation of the seats was agreed the construction process began. Jules skilfully demonstrated each of the stages in turn, encouraging the six novice volunteers to participate at every step.


Here is a summary of the steps:


  1. Cutting, laying and securing of weed fabric.

  2. Using a circular willow hoop as a guide for firstly the seat position and also as a guide for cutting 13 equidistant slits through the weed fabric. The slits were made along the circumference of the ring and would enable upright willow rods to be inserted more easily.

  3. A bespoke tool, rather like a spade but with a 30cm spike rather than a blade was used to make 13 drills through the slits in the fabric into the soil.

  4. Insertion of 13 living, relatively thick willow rods, tied loosely together at the top.

  5. Weaving, using a variety of the coloured rods available, starting from the base.

  6. Lining the inside of the seats with fabric. Filling the seats with soil and for the top 10cm with compost.

  7. Finishing the top of the seat off by bending, cutting and securing each upright rod into the top of the seat.

  8. Sowing Chamomile seeds on top of each seat.

  9. Bark was placed over the weed fabric area.

Later Jules returned to make a simple willow screen accompanied by two small sculptured animals, a deer and a snail. A disc cut from a log was placed between the feet of the seats. A few perennial herbs are to be planted around the seating area.

Under the guidance of Jules every beginner quickly learnt the technique and soon became more and more confident. The end product/s complimented the Natural Dye Garden Beds, Insect Hotel and existing Willow feature perfectly and it will be relaxing to sit on the seats particularly when the fragrance of the Chamomile fills the surrounding air.

We are all very grateful to Jules for her time and effort and it has been a real privilege to have participated in this very enjoyable and satisfying project. The experience gained would enable everyone who participated to have a go at constructing similar “simple things” out of living willow in their own gardens.

Maureen Bibby March 2019

Willow Seating Project at the Natural Dye Garden