The supple branches of willow trees are a prime material to start with. We’ve all seen baskets woven from willow branches, but it’s possible to weave the branches while they’re still alive to create almost any conceivable form. People have made living chairs, small bridges, fences, play structures, conceptual artwork, and many other designs with willow. This article gives step-by-step instructions on how to build a dome-shaped willow shade shelter; perhaps one of the simplest possible designs, and one that can be morphed into more complex structures if you get inspired.
Before getting started, it is important to understand the characteristics of willow trees that make this artform possible. Willow branches are long and pliant, which allows them to adapt into almost any form imaginable. Wherever two branches touch each other, the wood will fuse into a solid joint – the trait that gives structural integrity to a willow dome. Plus, willows have an incredible growth rate. Creating a living structure takes as much time as is necessary for the plants to grow, so it pays to work with a species that grows 6 to 8 feet a year.
Willows also have the magical ability to quickly form roots from any branch that is cut and stuck into the ground. This means that it’s easy to propagate dozens of trees in a short period, which, as you’ll see below, is the key to making this design work. Finally, it’s easy to find willow trees to propagate from, as they’re commonly found along streams and wetlands in almost every corner of the globe. Don’t worry about taking cuttings for your willow dome project – the trees re-grow immediately and almost seem invigorated as a result of being cut back. One of the great things about this project is that it doesn’t cost a thing. You’ll only need a few basic tools, and access to a stand of willow trees.