Jenny Crisp has been growing Willow in Herefordshire for three decades. Tucked away in a quiet corner of the county, Jenny’s Willow Beds are harvested through January to March each year and replanted. In strict lines spaced 2ft apart, willow saplings grow 9″ apart.
This regimented spacing ensures the young willow grows straight and true, and doesn’t bush out as it would if planted in the middle of a garden. There are thousands of varieties of willow but only a few hundred are useful for basket making.
‘It was through trial and error that I found out about growing the right type of willow,’ Jenny explained.
‘There are hundreds of different sorts, and when I started I made the same mistakes that many have: you are so enthusiastic that you plant all of these cuttings and get so excited by how quickly they grow, but you don’t know what you have and they all grow to different heights and colours; some are dense, others pithy, and they play a different role in basket weaving. If you want a fine and elegant basket, you need a fine and elegant willow because the characteristic of the material transfers into a piece. That’s why the link is so important between making and growing.’
Jenny must grow and harvest all the willow she needs for the year by March. It is then sorted into bundles, graded by length and left to dry naturally.
While the willow is still pliable and fresh in early spring, many of the hoops for basket bases are made for use throughout the summer.