Our late April visit was to the Whitton Willow Plot and Northumbria Basketry Group near Rothbury. We had an enthusiastic turnout keen to learn all about growing and using willow.
Alan Winlow and members of the basketry group talked us through the history of the willow plot. The Northumbria Basketry Group rented a small plot near Rothbury and work started in clearing the plot of undergrowth, installing rabbit proof fencing and laying woven mulch through which 25cm lengths of more than 20 different varieties of locally sourced willow were planted. In all over 7,00 cuttings were planted by early 2010.
In 2011 the plot was extended and a further 3,000 cuttings planted and a large boiling tank and stripping machine were purchased.
Most varieties of willow came from members’ own plots with a few extra bought in. Varieties ranged from Purpureas that provide fine rods for baskets to biomass varieties suitable for use in hurdles, screens and garden structures. Black Maul predominated as these are robust and versatile. Elegantissima provide white willow rods and Green Dick and Dark Dicks give long slender rods suitable for fine basketry. Harrisons provide beautiful green and brown bark colours.
The willow crop is harvested in the winter and early spring using a brush cutter for most but secateurs for finer rods. Some rods are processed to produce white and buff willow while bundles of Elegantissima stand in water over the winter and are stripped in early spring.
The development of the willow plot formed part of a local basketry project funded by Northumberland Uplands Local Action Group. Under this scheme over 100 people were trained in basketry using locally sourced willow. The project was funded under the EU Leader fund but now the plot is starting to sell rods and it is anticipated that the plot will be in full production in year 5 with an output of several hundred thousand rods a year.
We had a look at the different types of the willow on the plot and the different stages of growth and we saw the bundles of stored willow and the impressive willow fences and domes that they sell in kit form. Some of us were tempted by some of the baskets on display.
For further information and sales see the Northumbria Basketry Group’s website.
Lunch for the more hardy of us was spent in the garden of the adjacent Whitton Grange thanks to our hosts John and Maggie Monoghan – with the occasional burst of sunshine and snow shower – after which we split into 2 parties for tour of the garden.
Whitton Grange was built between 1919 and 1921 by George Muckle and designed by the architect Robert Mauchlen, but lies over an earlier cottage and Pele towers. The garden is divided into separate areas by walls and terraces within which John and Maggie have selected plants ideally suited to each habitat. The garden includes ponds, lawns, an orchard, herbaceous borders and spring flowers ….but the real joy of the garden is their highly specialised selection of peonies and meconopsis. John showed us how he maintains the conditions for these plants by the collection of leaves and generation of leaf mould over a 4 year cycle and shreddings mixed with lawn clippings which are put onto the beds annually. Maggie specialises in auriculas – with a fine range at their peak just now – and in an impressive display of alpines.
John and Maggie gave us a wonderfully detailed tour of this lovely garden explaining to us how they had developed the garden from an overgrown wilderness and how the plants were propagated and maintained so successfully. Many thanks to them both for letting us see their beautiful garden.