Wattle fences and retaining walls can easily be built from the leftovers of pruning, or from coppiced wood. This technique is the most basic form of fence construction, having been in use since Neolithic times.

I continually harvest apple, dogwood, willow, and hazelnut wood from designated coppicing trees in my yard, because these local species happen to grow both quickly and straightly. There are a number of “fences in progress” that are built higher every time I go around and maintain trees. Preparing materials is easy: I trim the bases of prunings down to sturdy fence posts of a uniform height and circumference; the rest I trim into flexible pieces for weaving the rest of the fence. The leftovers from all of this are piled up in #hugelkultur mounds. I hammer the posts down 1/3 of their height, and the rest is just simple weaving back and forth, between posts.

I have used this method for #raised beds, #straw bale gardens, and purely for aesthetic purposes with great success, but then again, I am not one to complain when it’s 100% free!



Life After Hurricanes

The year before last, this Corkscrew Willow (Salix matsudana ‘Tortuosa’) was blown over in hurricane-force winds. Willows have notoriously shallow root systems, and this cultivar of a Chinese species didn’t evolve to withstand the challenges of this biome.

Most of the tree was put through the wood-chipper, and became the first wood chip mulch with which I started my sheet mulching terrain conversion projects.

The remaining trunk was propped up, weighted, and allowed to re-grow. In the past two years, it has come back with a vengeance, so a little pruning was in order to balance out the branching, and make sure the next storm doesn’t topple it again.

In pruning off a limb of this size, it is extremely important to cut through the bark and vascular tissue all the way around (pictured above). That way, when the limb starts breaking under its own weight, it won’t take a strip of bark with it: the pruning wound will be clean and will have an easier time healing.

I maintain all my trees with a secateurs and very old old pruning saw: it takes some time, but there are few tasks I’ve encountered that require more equipment.

None of the pruned wood from my work today will go to waste: I’m using some pliable limbs for wattle and planting stakes…

… and planting some to make “living furniture.” I’m thinking of shaping these cuttings into a chair.

Willow bark contains a natural rooting hormone, so it strikes root from cutting or layering quickly.

Many exotic trees like this need more horticultural care than native species, and need to be kept artificially small in order to withstand the challenges of a different climate than the one in which they evolved. This makes some exotic trees, like this one, ideal candidates for the continuous extraction of timber resources through practices like coppicing and pollarding. A tree like this can be cut back to the ground every year, and will reliably spring forth with new life.


The woods near our house are run as a private nature reserve. The very reasonable owners allow people into the woods to observe wildlife and enjoy the surroundings, as long as visitors are as unobtrusive as possible. Ancient hornbeam trees have been newly coppiced to create open areas and long rides, vastly improving diversity of flora and fauna in the woodland over recent years.

The countryside in England can often feel like it is either hanging on by the skin of it’s teeth against encroaching development or that it is inactive, suspended in time and literally ‘set aside’, to use the agricultural term. The woods in these pictures are alive in every sense. There is a rare, but discrete, feeling of purpose, industry and respect for the land and its inhabitants. 

The wooden structures and shelters dotted around the woods have a playful and light touch and I feel encouraged to become part of the landscape when I visit. 

The Heart of the Garden

I decided to make the double-grafted ‘Williams’ and ‘Beurre Hardy’ pear tree into a living sculpture, instead of just allowing it to grow freely.

The heart shape – probably itself derived from a seed pod – is ubiquitous in Denmark, even making it on to Danish coins. Therefore, a little heart-shaped tree seemed like the sort of thing my very Danish in-laws will appreciate having in the forest garden.

The fruit will be bourne on spurs, but I’ll allow branching growth towards the outside.

A mature heart-shaped espalier like this can take a variety of forms, but I am considering aiming for something along these lines:

GAP Photos: Apple tree trained into heart shape - USA; Photographer:
Jerry Harpur; Design: Ron Simple

I used coppiced Hazelnut stakes, and plastic-coated wire to bend the tree into the desired form: the supports can be adjusted for the first year or two, after which time, the shape will be established, and maintained with pruning. I’ll probably graft the two top branches together to complete the heart.

It’s not the most productive shape for a tree, but output isn’t everything: it adds an element of hygge, which is what makes a space not just livable, but also enjoyable.


Full Grown | Via

A UK-based furniture company called Full Grown, started by furniture designer Gavin Munro, doesn’t take wood and make them into furniture. They grow them on trees. Their bizarre furniture farm is located in a one-hectare field in Wirksworth, about 24 km north of Derby, where Mr. Munro is currently growing rows upon rows of tables, chairs and lampshades which he hopes to harvest in a couple of years.

Mr. Munro’s technique lies in coaxing the young saplings of willow, oak, ash and sycamore trees to take the shape of any furniture by training them to grow along predefined routes. This is achieved by using plastic moulds and through years of pruning, coppicing and grafting. The final product is either a chair or a table or a lampshade that has been grown out of a single, solid, joint-less piece of wood.


#Edible Forest Gardening 101

Nurse Trees

These are four species of leguminous trees I have growing in the forest garden:

  1. Black Locust (Robinia psuedoacacia) and Honey Locust (Gleditsia triacanthos) - Edible parts, nitrogen-fixing, honey crop, pollinator-attracting, insectary, hardwood
  2. Golden Chain Tree (Laburnum anagyroides) - Nitrogen-fixing, pollinator-attracting, resistant to predation
  3. Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis) - Edible parts, non-honeybee pollinator-attracting, deep taproot, vigorous grower

When I plant a seedling fruit-bearing tree (B), I always plant one (or more) of these flowering leguminous trees close by (A).

A Guild, in ‘Trees and their Management

The leguminous trees grow faster than the fruit trees, and can be pollarded or coppiced for firewood or mulch with some regularity. In the meantime, they provide shelter from wind and excessive sun or heat for the young fruit trees.

Keyline Design: Windbreak

Growing trees in close proximity to each other also makes them grow straighter, as they compete for space and light.

The legumes in this situation are called nurse trees, and similar associations are often found growing wild.

Leguminous Mesquite nurse trees shelter Saguaro cacti in the Sonoran Desert

In agriculture, this strategy is sometimes used in a silvoarable system (agroforestry): coniferous trees are employed as nurse trees in order to stimulate rows of long-term hardwood timber crops grow uniformly.

Five row windbreak strip, with conifer nurse trees

There are a number of benefits to this approach, but if has to be accompanied by aggressive and careful tree maintenance, and good planning. A system like this can thrive if the right species are chosen, and care is taken to avoid overcrowding in the face of limited solar resources (frequent pruning is necessary).

Generally, however, a high-density planting system–done right–will produce higher yields, while increasing biodiversity, and reducing problems with pests and disease inherent to a monoculture planting formation.

Related: Of Guilds, and Photosynthetic Efficiency

Help this blog plant 10 000 trees in 2015

#agroforestry #forest gardening #legumes #nitrogen fixation #nurse trees