As the trees began to leave a beautiful golden carpet of leaves on site, it heralded the time to tend to the site for Winter. Brambles, raspberries, and trees are all for the chop to promote more manageable and stronger growth for the oncoming seasons. We have a lot of Willow on site, and it didn't get spared a haircut as we get a lot of growth each year and it needs to be kept in check. It also serves as an opportunity to proved the children with some focussed tool practice as well. But more importantly, we love Autumn and all its colours!
Willow has served as a major feature of the Free Rangers site for the past 3 years. A large 'living fence' breaks up our paddock and the spring and summer growth creates shade as well as a tunnel the children can explore. The lower criss-cross section of the fence also allows the children to peek through at what's happening on the other side. We also have created tunnels, a willow dome and more willow 'fencing' around our conservation pond platform so there was plenty to keep us busy. The results were, I think you'll agree, rather good.
The main learning intention of the week was based on tool practice, in particular with our loppers and secateurs, but also we wanted to instil a sense of ownership into the children that this site is also theirs. They worked really well and all those that participated showed us excellent consideration for the tools and those around them. Alongside this, the children were also reminded, especially in respect to the tunnels, that this was a space where they could play! The Tree House often pulls the children's focus as a play space, so it was really great to see the children play in and out of the tunnels, blowing off steam and creating games and imaginative role-play scenarios with the offcuts!
After a tool safety briefing and working in small groups, the children helped to cut the mass of 3m long stems of willow from the tops of the fence, whilst other children helped to trim the thinner growth along the edges with smaller secateurs. My favourite part of the job is the weaving. To strengthen the living fence, we weaved back into the top and sides some of the thinner growth to bolster it and maintain its shape. The weaving also creates a wonderful 'flow' to the site as it winds from one side to the other (I almost wish it twisted a little more!) It's truly therapeutic work.
We don't like waste here at Free Rangers and we looked for ways to utilise all of the willow we cut down. The children used a lot of the cuttings to make swords or flags, but we also created a few crowns and rings for the children with the smaller pieces. I had a few tough requests for boats which I did attempt although they turned out more like rafts! I drew the line at creating tractors and dragons. A little of my skill range when it comes to weaving willow!
We managed to finish the entire length of the fence and two of the tunnels which has made the site look much neater and tidy for its winter closure. Next week we intend to look at ways to use the willow we have cut down so watch this space.
Thanks for reading.