Creating A Willow Trellis

Creating A Willow Trellis

Part of Ep. 902 Sex and Roses

Learn the basics of making a willow trellis with Susan Churchill, who creates trellises and willow furniture from nature.

Premiere date: Jul 25, 2001

TRANSCRIPT+
Wisc Gardener Transcript: 

Shelley:
This is a stand of wild willow. It's easy to identify, long upright branches and very long, skinny leaves. We're going to show you how to turn the wild willow into a beautiful trellis like this one. Willow is native to Wisconsin, there are many species. Most of it grows in wet areas along ditches and along the edges of rivers. It's easy to harvest, a simple pair of loppers and you're ready. You might also want to have boots, and if you're on private property, please ask permission before you start cutting. We're going to learn how to make a trellis with Susan Churchill. Hi Susan.

Susan:
Hi Shelley.

Shelley:
Now you make trellises and willow furniture for your business Deertail Creek, right?

Susan:
That's right.

Shelley:
So, what have you got here already?

Susan:
Well Shelley, I've collected two different sizes of branches for us to use today to make a trellis. We're going to work in the ladder format, very much like the one you were holding up earlier, and so we've collected wood that will be used for the frame, or the uprights, and the rungs of the ladder, and these are about an inch and a half in diameter at the widest point. And you look for nice straight ones, obviously there's going to be interesting curves, that's part of the fun, rustic look. Then I also collected what I call benders. These are younger willows, and you look for about half and inch to three-quarters of an inch in diameter, and again, you're looking for the nice, straight growing piece and flexibility of course is key.

Shelley:
So, we have to try to use these while they're fresh, or they're going to get stiff and brittle.

Susan:
That's correct. If you're going to do, if you want them to be bent on your application you need to use them within a couple of days of harvesting. You can extend that time a little bit by putting the bottoms in a bucket of water.

Shelley:
So if I'm going to use straight pieces I can do those anytime, it's just the bendy parts.

Susan:
Yes, that's right.

Shelley:
Okay. Now, here you've started to put one together.

Susan:
Yes, I've cut down two uprights to about five-and-a-half feet in length.

Shelley:
And took the branches and the leaves off.

Susan:
That's right. And I've cut cross pieces, or rungs, these are about 24 inches long.

Shelley:
Okay, and they're the same thickness as the support ones.

Susan:
Yeah. Or you can do it slightly narrower if you like too. And this is an arbitrary length, you can do any size that suits you. So we're going to go ahead and apply this piece. I generally start about 12 inches from the bottom of the ladder. I'm using coated sinker nails, this is an inch and seven-eights. You look for the nail that's the best size for whatever you happen to be working with. You want it to just go through, but not extend out the back. Also, Shelley, you want to have at least an inch- and-a-half overhang, because this is water-dense wood and is subject to splitting as it dries. So if you have some extra room between the end and the nail, it's less likely to split.

Shelley:
That explains my udder failure at trying this on my own then, I had no overlap. So make sure to overlap and you won't have the splitting problem.

Susan:
Next time it will be just fine!

Shelley:
You just hammer it in, okay. Nice, simple tools, I like that.

Susan:
And then, you just continue to add these until you have five or six, depending on your design.

Shelley:
Like you have here. Now you've got a completed, very simple ladder.

Susan:
Right, here's our completed ladder. When I start to do the application of the bent pieces, I like to think of the piece as having sort of three parts, the bottom, the middle and the top. And I think about what design I want to put in each of those places. That helps sort of bring it down to scale, and you don't have to address the whole thing at once. So you can look at your piece and decide if you want to have something bent, if you want to do lattice work, and then start to nail the pieces on.

Shelley:
So these get nailed too. Different size nails, same size?

Susan:
Well, use a smaller nail for these. These are panel nails, two sizes of panel nails, depending on the thickness of your wood. There's the inch and five-eights and one-inch panel nail. And those are also available at any hardware supply store.

Shelley:
Good, nothing complicated. And then, again, you just simply nail that in.

Susan:
Right:

Shelley:
Now you've got one here, that this is bent. So you did this green.

Susan:
Yes I did, this is a little baby fence, these pieces were applied right after they were cut.

Shelley:
Okay, but you said we can also do it straight, and then we don't have to do it right away.

Susan:
Right. This is what I call a sampler trellis. Again, working in the three different units, we did a different application in each of those areas. So you start to see there's really infinite opportunity to mix and match and do different application within those different areas.

Shelley:
Well, and now if you take this lower one here and add another layer, you've got that lattice like we had on this first one.

Susan:
That's right. You can have either the diagonal, double it for lattice, diamond, or multiple diamond.

Shelley:
Now I notice with this one, this is using dogwood. You've used different materials on this one.

Susan:
Yes, that's red-tweed dogwood, and both of these were applied when they were green so they could be bendable.

Shelley:
So you just bent it into a heart shape and nailed it in? That's really pretty I like that.

Susan:
And this one is the willow with the addition of grapevine to add some interest and texture to the piece.

Shelley:
So really, go out in the woods and play.

Susan:
Right. You can use grapevine, you can use pearly willow, you can use wisteria, the sky's the limit.

Shelley:
This is great, thank you Susan.

Susan:
You're welcome.

Shelley:
You know, I love working with my hands. I can't wait to try a willow trellis in my own backyard. I hope you've been inspired as well. For more information on any of the topics we've discussed today, be sure to check out our website at wpt.org/garden. And as usual, thanks for joining me on the Wisconsin Gardener.

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