On May 15, 2012 at the UConn Plant Science Research Farm 15 Master Gardeners attended to a fun and fascinating class on constructing living willow fences taught by Julia Kuzovkina a professor in the UConn Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture. Dr Kuzovkina teaches courses related to ornamental and environmental horticulture, her research focuses on development of new crops and phytoremediation. Phytoremediation is process that uses various types of plants to remove, transfer, stabilize, and/or destroy contaminants in the soil and groundwater.
The willows used for the living fence constructed during this class are non-native shrub willows. These shrub willows have been used since mid-1970 as an energy crop in Sweden, Canada and the United Kingdom. They are now used round the world to generate both heat and power. In addition the willows are used for bioremediation; they act as biological filters to clean up nutrient rich effluent from landfills, livestock operations and sewage works, urban wastewater and even toxic spills. Non-native species are used in these projects as our native willows do not have the growth characteristics necessary for these multiple tasks. The shrubs are non-invasive.
This class focused on yet another fascinating willow characteristic- use as garden ornamentation. Julia presented a power point lecture introducing the willows, their origins, types in use today and their various functions. She then took the class outside where she explained in detail and constructed a lovely semi-circular woven willow fence. All this was accomplished in two hours. Class participants were sent home with willow material and an instruction booklet so they too could construct a living structure.
In addition to fences the willows can be used as enclosures for a garden seat, to camouflage an undesirable view and many playgrounds around the country are constructing living playground structures for children.