Tag Archives: natural materials

Crochet jute and willow garden screen - crochet close-up

Abstract views for Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge

Spring is always the ‘busy’ season for those of us who enjoy gardening and for me this week has flashed by in a whirl. To capture my Spring ‘busyness’, I decided to browse through all of the photos I’ve taken this week and create an abstract vision of my week.

Abstract - crocus in Spring greens
Crocus in Spring greens

This image contains some of my Spring favourites. Some milder, sunny days have encouraged our crocuses to bloom this week. I love the contrasting colours – the purple and orange of the crocus against the new season’s greens. I love the heart shaped ‘wild food’ leaves of the Garlic Mustard with their energy-rich texture of veins. I noticed in my image the triangle shape of the crocus is enclosed and echoed by a larger green triangle, both pointing upwards in this picture as if towards the source of their renewed vitality, the sun.

Abstract - willow weaving
Willow weaving to tidy up my willow garden screens

My willow garden screens have survived well over the cold and windy Winter but before I put them to use again as climbing plant supports I decided they needed some aesthetic attention. Some readers may remember me writing about creating my willow and crochet jute garden screens last Summer. When I originally made the willow screens I left the tops quite wild-looking and unfinished but this year I’ve gone for a neater cottage garden finish.

In this project I have also been using some of my home-grown willow that grew on from last year’s willow cuttings. This week I have turned the tops of my two garden screens into willow arches and bound them in place with the home grown willow. I’m sure there will be a gardening post or two to come on this project 😉

Abstract - rustic wooden planter
Turned wood pegs in our rustic wooden planter

My plan from last Spring to build a wooden planter trough for my willow cuttings has finally reached fruition this week. The wooden planter has been a woodwork project that my son has worked on with me over the past few weeks. The idea was to build a rustic planter entirely from locally available raw materials and I have been really pleased that this was possible. The logs are pegged together with turned wood pegs that my son made on his pole lathe.

In my abstract image of the new wooden planter I have exaggerated the contrast to show the turned wood pegs in the hand-hewn timber.

Abstract view - solar eclipse
Friday’s partial solar eclipse – our pinhole image at 9.40am

The partial solar eclipse on Friday was one of those phenomena that should not go by unnoticed. We have been preparing for the eclipse during the week and then on Friday we were ready with our pinhole projectors to observe the moon passing between Earth and the sun. For us this was between 9.15am and 10.00am. ‘Pinhole projectors’ sound very scientific don’t they? Actually, they were simply small squares of cereal box card, about 8cm (3″) across, with a pinhole approximately in the centre. Whilst we didn’t enjoy constant clear skies during the eclipse, there were enough sunny spells to be able to observe the moon’s movement. The sky noticeably turned darker and the air colder during the eclipse.

The abstract image I have chosen of this event is one of my son’s photos of the eclipse projected onto another piece of card.

I hope you have enjoyed my week in abstract images. For more abstract images please do take a look at other entries for Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge this week.

J Peggy Taylor

Sweet Pea plants growing on a willow garden screen

Air-pruning plant pot experiment – UPDATE

Growing plants in air-pruning plant pots was a new experience for me this year so I have been watching and learning from my Sweet Peas as they have gradually progressed.

My air-pruning experiment: the project progress

My six upcycled air-pruning plant pots now complete with their newly sown Sweet Pea seeds
My six upcycled air-pruning plant pots now complete with their newly sown Sweet Pea seeds

It seems a long time since mid-April when I sowed the Sweet Pea seeds in their cosy grow bags inside my upcycled milk carton air-pruning plant pots. The seeds quickly germinated and the Sweet Pea plants were soon on their way.

Air-pruning plant pots firmly secured to the gate and the Sweet Pea plants arranged on the jute and willow garden screen
Air-pruning plant pots firmly secured to the gate and the Sweet Pea plants arranged on the jute and willow garden screen

When I put them outside in the middle of May, the plants only just reached up far enough out of their pots for me to encourage the shoots to set off on their journey up the jute and willow garden screen that I had specially constructed for this purpose.

By the end of July the plants were grown to their full height (1.8 metres/6 feet) and the first flowers appeared … pink, followed by white and then a deep maroon.

Pink, White, Maroon - Sweet Peas on the willow screen
Pink, White, Maroon – Sweet Peas flowering on the willow garden screen

My air-pruning experience: thoughts and observations

Whilst generally I am very pleased with my air-pruning experience during this Spring and Summer, I have encountered a couple of problems with my gardening experiment that I thought I’d talk a bit about in this post.

Air-pruning plant pots in the microclimate behind the wall
My air-pruning plant pots in the cooler, damper micro-climate behind the wall

I set three pots of plants to grow from behind my small yard wall (approx. 90cm/3 feet high) and three pots of plants to grow up over my yard gate, which is around the same height. Although these two areas are only inches apart, they have very different micro-climates.

The small area behind the brick wall is fairly dark and damp because it is immediately adjacent to our refuse and recycling bins. I had also previously planted my new Willow cuttings in their pots in this corner of the yard and, as they had grown on a little, they affected the light level too. The combination of these elements means this part of the yard tends to stay cooler with no direct sun.

As I'd anticipated the Sweet Pea plants are mainly growing on the outside of my backyard garden screen
As I’d anticipated the Sweet Pea plants are mainly growing on the outside of my backyard garden screen

The wooden planked gate forms the boundary to the other half of the yard. With the open yard area immediately inside the gate, this half of the yard has more air movement, plus the warmth of the sun soon warms up the wooden gate.

In the cooler, damper conditions behind the wall, it wasn’t long before the snails showed up! When I say ‘showed up’, it was mainly a case of ‘left a trail’ … not only of glistening slime, but also of half-chewed leaves – though only on one particular Sweet Pea plant. Why only one plant, I can’t be certain – but I was pleased to see at least it wasn’t all three!

Snail in Sweet Pea grow bag
Spot the snail snuggled into the Sweet Pea grow bag!

One day I managed to catch up with my plant-munching visitor as it snuggled down into the evidently-too-cosy grow bag! Have you ever found yourself addressing a mollusc?! I must say, I took pity on the poor starving creature who was, of course, merely seeking an evening meal and a bed for the night! I did however remove it from the Sweet Pea pot and found it a new home elsewhere!

Moody mollusc - my snail visitor
Moody Mollusc peering disgruntledly from under its shell

There was one other aspect of my Sweet Pea air-pruning plant pot experiment that I have could have been happier with and that relates to the size of the pots I chose to use. If you have grown Sweet Peas before, you will know they normally prefer to grow in quite deep soil. However, I had previously grown them successfully in a pot that was not much deeper than the air-pruning plant pots I was using this year, so that was why I had decided it was worth the experiment.

The problem I encountered was this: as the plants grew taller, the lower leaves quickly yellowed, despite regular watering and feeding. I took a close look at the root systems as far as I could observe them from the outside of the pots. The roots had grown well and exactly as expected in the air-pruning plant pots. There were only the tips of roots showing inside the closed-in areas of the pots. Where the fabric grow-bag was open to the air, the roots had not penetrated the grow-bag. I will be taking an even closer look at how the root systems have developed when the plants are finished flowering and I take them down.

Visible root growth in air pruning plant pot
Root growth in one of the air-pruning plant pots on the wooden gate
Roots in air pruning plant pots
Roots in the air pruning plant pots behind the wall

The plants have reached their full height and flowered, but the yellowing of the leaves has somewhat spoiled their overall appearance on the willow screen. I definitely feel the Sweet Pea plants needed larger pots with a greater quantity of compost to supply them with sufficient nutrients and water. (Apologies for the slightly blurred image below – we had windy weather in August and it was impossible to find a time when the light and the weather allowed for better photo shooting!)

Yellowing foliage on my Sweet Peas
My Sweet Peas at the end of August – flowers but also yellowing foliage

I was very pleased that the Sweet Pea plants grew to their full height, though on hindsight, given the plant pot size I had used, I would probably have been better managing the growth differently. I nipped out the main growing tips when the plants reached the top of the screen, but if I had done this a little earlier and kept the plants a little shorter, I think perhaps the issue with the dying foliage may not have been so bad.

The size of the pots has definitely been an issue I’d rethink for another time. I need either larger pots for Sweet Peas or perhaps I need to choose a smaller growing plant. Another idea I had intended for some of the Sweet Pea plants was to plant them into a wooden plant trough. But, as so often happens, time simply ran out for that idea this year. However, I may contemplate creating some troughs in either wood or woven willow for next year so I shall add it to my Winter projects list!

J Peggy Taylor

My crochet jute and willow rod garden screen fixed in place with a hazel strengthening rod

Crochet jute and willow garden screen: project update

In recent weeks I have been creating a crochet jute and willow garden screen on which to train my rapidly developing Sweet Pea plants (in their upcycled air-pruning plant pots that I’ve been sharing with you lately). This garden screen project is part of a bigger plan I have to make more use of vertical space in my very small back yard.

In a previous post I was showing you the initial framework for the larger of the two pieces of garden screen I am in the process of constructing. This crochet jute and willow rod garden screen is very much an experiment-in-progress as I ponder and deliberate on how to approach the next stage.

This week I took the chance of a particularly warm and sunny afternoon to begin the task of setting up the completed first section of the willow garden screen. I think the sunshine was beginning to make me impatient to see how the next stage of this project would work out!

I inserted the butts of the willow rods into the plant buckets in my yard
I inserted the butts of the willow rods into the plant buckets in my yard

My initial plan had been to create a made-to-measure trough from small logs in which to ‘plant’ the base of this section of the garden screen. However, since I have not yet found time to construct the wooden trough, I decided to simply ‘plant’ the upright rods of the willow screen into the plant buckets I already have in situ in that area of my back yard. These buckets are currently taking good care of some willow cuttings that I took earlier in the year.

In its preliminary stage of construction my large section of willow screen was easily gathered up into a bundle … deliberately, so it was possible to manoeuvre it into my back yard! I’d taken care to measure the space I had available to fill and I am pleased to say the jute crochet allowed the willow rods to stretch out just enough to fill it exactly. I carefully pushed the butts of some of the thicker willow rods into place, deep into the plant buckets. And … Hey Presto! … my crochet jute and willow garden screen stood proudly in its new place!

My willow garden screen standing upright in place in my back yard
My willow garden screen standing upright in place in my back yard

I was pleased to notice that the height at which I’d trimmed off the willow rods made the screen just the height I was hoping to achieve in relation to my neighbour’s fence. It might have been fun to have the tallest fence in the neighbourhood, but perhaps not if I wanted it to remain stable as a plant support 😉

The next job was to begin weaving in the much thinner willow rods across the garden screen to create an open lattice-work around which the Sweet Peas could wind their tendrils. I worked the thin weavers through between the rods, very much in a random fashion, as I had planned. My intention was to still allow as much light as possible to reach my yard, especially for the benefit of my other plants.

My finished willow garden screen just matches the height of my neighbour's fence
My finished willow garden screen just matches the height of my neighbour’s fence

When I had finished weaving the thin weavers into the main framework of the willow screen I found the screen was already quite stable. However, I decided to add some strengthening rods at either end of the screen, as my son had suggested, to give even more stability in the windy weather we often experience here on our northern hillside. The hazel strengthening rod is simply tied onto the end of the crochet jute and willow construction with string and also held in place by a fencing staple in the top of the gatepost.

It was very pleasant working outdoors in the Spring sunshine and I must say I was very satisfied with my willow screen handiwork. Now I need to work on the other section of my willow garden screen and that will fit across the back of my yard gate … hopefully!

J Peggy Taylor

Materials for crochet jute and willow rod garden screen

Crocheting a willow garden screen for my back yard

To grow even more things in my very small back yard I am now looking at vertical gardening to expand my growing space. I have seen some interesting versions of planting in vertical space but I’ve decided to go for my own personal twist on this concept.

One of the first problems I needed to solve is that I want to be able to take advantage of some vertical space that at present is completely open, above a small brick wall and a low-level gate. I’m not looking to create a permanent feature as I want to see how using this vertical space will impact on light levels for other plants I have growing in the yard.

Willow cuttings behind the wall
The willow cuttings standing behind the wall where I intend to stand the narrow trough
I am keen to keep the screen structure quite natural-looking and not overly dense to allow light through as well as incorporating natural materials. At present I am designing two jute and willow screens which combine crochet and some simple willow weaving.

My idea is to attach one screen to extend above the current height of the gate using hand-hewn wooden slats. The other screen will be taller, at approximately 1.8 metres, and will be planted into a narrow slatted wooden trough (also yet to be constructed!) that will extend along behind the low brick wall. The initial idea is not for the willow rods to actually root in the trough though it is possible this may happen if the rods are still green when I set up the screen. (I already have a few pots of willow growing from cuttings I took a couple of months ago.)

… and what will I grow here? I’d pondered on beans or peas but, as this is a roadside and the plants will mainly be growing on the outside of my yard, I’m not keen on that idea. I’ve decided to try for a good showing of sweet peas. I love these flowers, especially the old fashioned scented ones.

Crocheting the willow rods together
Crocheting the willow rods together

So far I have begun to crochet the willow rods together and I really like the way it looks … I will report back as I make further progress 🙂

J Peggy Taylor

Inserting the final willow rod around the base - using a Phillips head screwdriver!

Staking-up not staking-out

Today I continued the next phase of my basketmaking. For readers who don’t know the beginning of this story, I am attempting to teach myself the craft of basketmaking in 2014. I am working from a very helpful book by Georgia Crook, simply entitled “Basketmaking”. Readers who saw the first phase of this crafty tale may recall that so far I have made something remarkably resembling a willow basket base.

Today’s task was to add a set of willow rods around the base and to bend them upwards to form the main framework of my basket. I also continued to learn the various pieces of basketry terminology as I worked through this task.

My chosen willow rods and the base I made previously
My chosen willow rods and the base I made previously

I chose my upright rods from a bundle I had cut for this purpose. These 24 rods needed to be just a little thinner than the sticks I had used in the base. I prepared each rod by slyping the butt end (cutting the thick end of the rod to a point on one side).

Knife and some slyped rods ready for use
Some slyped rods ready for use

Next the rods were to be inserted into the weaving of the base. Using a greased ‘bodkin’ (I improvised with a Phillips head screwdriver 😉 )the rods are pushed into the pockets at either side of the base sticks. This sounded fairly straightforward, and to an extent it was, except working a set of rods each slightly over a metre long into a circular base meant I ended up working with something like a giant willow octopus … but with 24 arms!

Inserting the first four rods into the pockets of the base weaving
Inserting the first four rods into the pockets of the base weaving

I should probably have carried out the whole of this task outside rather than attempting it in the kitchen. Fortunately nothing came to grief … quite … though a pot of willow cuttings in water had a close shave! However, to continue my basketmaking, I decided it really was necessary to remove my willow octopus outside, which required a few extra helping pairs of hands. Thank you helpers!

Willow base and rods - like a giant octopus
Willow base and rods – like a giant octopus

To form the uprights the willow rods have to be carefully bent upwards around the basket base. This is done by pressing a knife blade gently into each rod where it protrudes from the edge of the base. Then with a slight twist of the knife the rod neatly kinks so it can be bent upwards at a right angle, but without snapping. Clever! … and it even worked for me as I managed not to snap any of my 24 octopus arms!

Kinking the first uprights  with a knife at the edge of the base
Kinking the first uprights with a knife at the edge of the base

Now it was time to control my octopus … in other words, bend up those carefully kinked rods and catch them together in a loose willow ring. I made a quick willow ring from a left-over rod. My instruction book advised folding up the rods from opposite sides of the base, so this was how I began.

Catching up the rods from opposite sides in a loose willow ring
Catching up the rods from opposite sides in a loose willow ring

Unfortunately, my ‘loose’ willow ring was evidently just a tad too loose and came undone, spilling my neatly collected octopus arms back down onto the ground. Ohh! Sigh! … and start again …

All the upright rods in the second willow ring
All the upright rods caught in the second willow ring

This time I made the willow ring slightly tighter to avoid a similar fate. Perhaps as a result of the willow rods being flapped up and down rather more times than they should, I found a couple of my carefully slyped rods had crept out of their basket-base pockets and needed to be firmly replaced.

However, eventually, I ended up with a satisfyingly-shaped willow barrel, with all the upright rods neatly caught in the willow ring. Now I’m ready to start ‘waling’ so I can finish my ‘upsett’ … though I should reassure you that I’m not expecting to shed any tears!

J Peggy Taylor

hands hooking the yarn for single crochet stitches

Craft a Willow and Hemp Curtain Ring

I’m in a bit of a willow and hemp phase at the moment. Willow needs little introduction. There are many species of willow (Salix)growing in many parts of the world, and varying in shape and size. As it is quick growing and pliable, willow has long been grown as a basketmaking material. This week I have been discovering myself a little of how wonderfully versatile a material it is for basketmaking, but now I am also experimenting with making it into other forms.

This particular experiment involved making a natural ring and then crocheting a binding around it. The ring is made with a 60cm/24 inch fine willow rod simply coiled around to form a ring about 7cm/3 inches across.

Materials needed to make the curtain ring
Materials needed to make the curtain ring

To make the crochet binding I used some spare hemp yarn I had left over from another project. The hemp I am talking about here is agricultural hemp. Agricultural hemp, like willow, is another wonderfully versatile material. It is also truly environmentally friendly and I believe deserves a much bigger role as one of the sustainable solutions we need for an ecologically sound future.

Hemp yarn is soft and strong. The hemp yarn I am using in this project is a beautifully rich deep terracotta. The yarn is hand-coloured but is also colour-fast, making it washable. Another aspect I particularly love about this yarn is its lustre. The natural hemp yarn has not been bleached as part of its processing, so it retains its natural shine, allowing the light to pick up on highlights in a finished piece.

The curtain ring I am making in this tutorial is experimental at this stage, but I thought I’d share the idea with you. However, I have made similar willow curtain rings without a binding and they are certainly still giving good service a year later.

You can find my tutorial (with photos) for making the willow and hemp curtain ring here on its own page.

The finished willow and hemp curtain ring
The finished willow and hemp curtain ring

You will notice the ring is neither flat nor rounded, but rather undulates as it follows the thicks and thins of the willow base. The crochet stitches will be shorter or longer to accommodate the variations. I quite liked this. I think this gives the curtain ring more character and also the undulation will play well with the lustre of the hemp yarn as the light reflects.

J Peggy Taylor

Introducing Oak Trees Studio

Hello and welcome to my new Oak Trees Studio blog!


Oak Trees Studio is my new Etsy shop. I opened my shop a few weeks before Christmas as the new face of my creative endeavours.   www.etsy.com/shop/OakTreesStudio

I am something of a nature nut and I love working with natural materials so it seemed a natural progression to develop this into a seedling of a business idea. My main aim through Oak Trees Studio is to share my love  of natural materials – from wool to wood and from hemp* to hedgerow treasure  …  and hopefully start selling the hand-crafted items I produce.

For my opening collection of hand-crafted items I have created some warm winter crochet beanie hats in real Yorkshire wool.  I absolutely love this natural un-dyed wool. The wools I choose are from small scale producers and the wool is all processed by hand and hand spun in North Yorkshire.

Brown_Wool_Hat_White_Stripe_blog copy

I develop my own original hat patterns and then I crochet the hats. Crochet is my favourite yarn craft. I learned to crochet as a child – many, many years ago – and whenever I yearn to create in yarn, usually I turn to my crochet hooks.

You may have noticed I added an asterisk * next to the word ‘hemp’ earlier. Agricultural hemp is an often-maligned member of the Cannabis sativa family. It is only a few years since it again became legal to grow agricultural hemp in the UK, though it has a long and illustrious history. This is a wonderful and very eco-friendly plant crop that I am sure to write more about in a future post. The hemp yarn I use is hand-dyed and comes in a myriad of beautiful colours.

That’s a brief peek behind the origins of Oak Trees Studio. I hope you’ll drop by again to see what else we’re up to here on the blog and you’re very welcome at Oak Trees Studio on Etsy too.

I want to sign off this post by sending my very best wishes to everyone who is taking part in the WordPress Zero to Hero in 30 days project.  What a great WordPress idea for the New Year! Thank you Michelle too!