Grown on the site of Evergreen Brickworks since its opening in 2010 from plants which regenerate annually and are cut late in the spring. the red osier dogwood is an important food source for birds and the black willow can grow up to 12′ a year. Both are native species are planted to begin natural restoration of the the five acre redeveloped industrial pad.
Often these plantings are originally grown in nurseries who focus on maximum yield since plant growth is tied to profit, and so they are flooded with fertilizers. These are then planted out, and the odd original shape obtained by the greenhouse growth of the plant stays with it as it matures, and therefore the shape of this plant as we now recognize it is misleading. dogwoods and willows have evolved to be stimulated by cutting/burning especially when the leaves have fallen and the energy of the plant is stored under the snow, in its roots. the form of a coppice stump, as it grows straight long shoots, is a beautiful thing to behold. often trimmed by beaver and muskrat, these long shoots are ideal material for basketry, and so are a living free renewable resource, who’s value can be added to immensely when planted close to an environmental center like the Evergreen Brick Works has become.
see the video of youth harvesting the black willow:
by planting species which have the highest yield of environmental and economic functions, we can work towards rekindling understanding of the role of ‘coppice’ plants and trees in responsible urban business practices of the future.
through experimentation in the pilot brickworks artist residency program, the dogwood and willow baskets will annually be available for sale in the Evergreen Garden Market for the holiday season, under the name: Winter Solstice Basketry.
pirates will be popping up and learning about the floods in the don valley in the children’s garden at evergreen brickworks this coming spring. will they learn how to survive pirates? or will the pirates teach them high sea survival….time will tell.
with sticks grown purposefully in a garden of willow and dogwoods, or as the forester’s of the early british countryside would call, a coppice, this wee beasty overlooks visitors upon entering.
see a video of the teens who helped harvest the willow here:
the earth science of this art lies in the ability of willow and dogwood to reproduce through any dormant (leafless) cutting or twig. then specific rods are chosen for structural form and placed as to fill in the sculpture as they grow.
thereafter individual willows will leaf out and change the form of the sculpture as it grows in the most unpredictable shapes, which can then in later years be trimmed or further woven in as a seasonal project. kind of like farming pretty trees, but in inspiring shapes. think bonsai.
while creating more work in terms of seasonal trimming can seem like adding inputs/chores/more energy into yard maintenance, willow actually is one of the most productive crops that can be grown in an environmental education center/school-ground. i hope we all know by now that there is a clear disconnection from the seasonal nature of land based activities, meaning that many urban dwellers wouldn’t, as common knowledge, know that garlic should be planted before the first frost outdoors to get that jump on spring it needs. it is therefore productive to plant and cultivate species of easily maintained willows, who benefit and are encouraged to grow if cut in the winter, since this helps children and adults to reconnect to seasonal work and gain memorable insights into reproducing plants and trees to foster an understanding of how to become more self-resilient. can’t argue with that. ha.
This knot was harvested in cassandra public school while the snow was blowing over a workshop on planting a living willow tunnel for the evergreen all hands in the dirt forum. In four months I have woven around 150-200 knots mostly from the material harvested at cassandra.
Since I was 12 or so I have been drawing celtic inspired knotworks mostly drawn from the book of kells and similar, though I would get through a letter sized knot and lose patience after 3-4 hours, because the drawing had a predictable end.
As I have said elsewhere the willow knots are waste material because of the way the were pruned or chewed in years past, and are not prime for fencing or basketry. Each break in the leader shoot produces two or more off-shoots which are the structural basis for each knot, and there are few options for weaving and tying these knots other than in the configuration I have made them. The only limitation to this statement is that I have noticed through time that as I become proficient and evolve different means of attaching willow to itself, different patterns evolve.
This, coupled with the awe-inspiring male or female catkins (or in the case of the dogwood I am working with now rosette style flowers) followed by leaves, brings the impetus to continue making knots far beyond my early drawings.
I am not sure if you have looked at the book of kells, but many of the illuminated knots represent animals, people or other symbols, and in this practice I will continue to create increasingly representational forms.
The first experiments have taken forms of insects, but recently I made a small beaver out of red osier dogwood.
Literally every day I am learning from the progressive revelation of growing stems and leaves, which I think of as knots growing out, like problems solving themselves.
I will post more revelations as they progress, hopefully into massive scale living representatives of animals subsisting on willow and dogwood in the don (like the beavers living in the mud banks of the don-1.5m long!).
after purchasing bulk willow from a supplier in southern Ontario who buys from landowners in Quebec, i collaborated with evergreen learning grounds and andreas merker to deliver a three hour workshop in Cassandra public school in NE Toronto where we built a 15′ living willow tunnel. during the workshop i took half of the twenty associates who consult for school boards (installing natural play spaces across the country), and walked over to a stone theatre with a horseshoe boardwalk above out-of-cycle willow shrubs of multiple varieties. we harvested much of what was in the way of lunchtime monitors being able to see the kids through the brush, a.k.a. to improve sight lines. this brush was full of willow whips of purple and yellow, green and red, each cut multiple times (to improve sight-lines) in the past, and so were rendered useless as living fencing or tunnel material, and indeed for baskets as well. after spinning little circles in some leftover pencil-lead thin stems, i had the idea to sculpt these malformed specimens into little representations of bugs and animals, eventually embarking on monstrous living deer and eagles, etc.
these specimens were stored outside in the cold winter we’re having, and were brought indoors to defrost before being woven into these distinct patterns which emerged (again from being trimmed in a specific way over multiple years). each cut by pruners in years past, trying to see the children through the willow, produced uniform deformities, which evolved through the careful priming and bending with my hands, into about 150 little critters, which can be seen at: http://www.foolishnature.org/homely/environmental/wood/wood.html under the heading: Living Knotworks.
If one takes a dormant willow sculpture, and entices it indoors into a bucket of warm water for two weeks it will produce large catkins and then leaves, and can then be kept indoors over the last few months of winter to learn and observe from as it grows out its knots. I have been potting these works in glass vases, and they are currently for sale @ cafe Belong located at550 bayview- evergreen brickworks in the don valley; Ossington Ideal Coffee-ossington 1blok S of Dundas, W side, and soon also available at Broadview Expresso, broadview 1blok N of Danforth, E side.
Pay them a visit if your in the neighborhood.
This is the prototype which has been forced to grow indoors out-of-season since late November.
The design for a 15′ tunnel for preschool kids to run their tricycles through. each pair of uprights is twisted to form somewhat equal arches which are then woven with thin saplings to make the arches conform to a tunnel.
supported by a 5′ cedar palisade dividing the preschool kids from the toddlers in Brampton, ontario, this hut is designed and built to demonstrate various traditional building materials, such as sheets of white pine bark as roofing, woven grape vine and cedar branches, all adapted to c.s.a. childcare standards.
These images are from the ymca in brampton, ontario, who have empowered evergreen to reform the toddler and pre-school outdoor daycare spaces with some space suitable for healthy kids to grow in; a living landscape of plants, trees, and details which makes me greedy to have something similar when i was a kid. it is an odd desire, since i grew up in salmon arm, b.c. and my elementary school had forests attached to it to the tune of about 5 acres. so evergreen has now commissioned me to design and build out a brush hut, whose structural spine is a 4′ cedar fence, and each side of the fence dividing the toddlers from the pre-school kids has a little hut.
All of the material was sourced from an adjacent property called cedar glen, and when i initially arrived i thought i was looking for two trees (for the brush huts) and enough willow to make 2 fifteen foot willow tunnels. When i arrived the willow was in short supply, and what maple i could find was either relatively rare on the site, unless it had been recently cut down and was sprouting up again, a process called coppicing. (more precisely coppicing is taking advantage, and creating annual cycles between coppice areas which you cut down, of trees which re-sprout from the bark collar after a tree is cut. it is an old technology of farming trees which has been practiced for over 2000 years.) the property being called ‘cedar glen’ you could guess which young saplings i was cutting out. that’s right, the eastern white cedar. there is something infinitely satisfying, and somehow right, or ethical about using the materials of small scale forest management to effect such beautiful little children’s spaces. I walked through the woods, populated with large black cherries, white ash, and literally thousands of small cedar saplings, growing together as if for comfort. others call this growing competitively, though it was useful to release the larger cedars of their competition while harvesting for the willow, now cedar tunnels. it may be a stretch of the imagination, but i sincerely believe that this ethic carries over into the material, and thereafter into whatever is created out of it. this balance of the application of differing traditional technologies through understanding different uses of the living pars of plants and trees is, in my opinion, of great effect to children learning, since more intellectual concepts may be harder to ‘sink in’ to their excitable minds.
in the coming two weeks, which mark the beginning of june, i will continue to upload images of these shelters. right now you can clearly see the woven grape vine, cut by a crew of 250 volunteers at cedar glen, the maple, ash, white pine and other upright structural poles, though what you cannot see in the image is the small binding cedar rope, laboriously made from the inner bark, and lashed in to prevent kids from getting their limbs stuck in the hut.
“Land design and management informed by permaculture principles tends to regard naturalized species of plants as assets that should be managed to stabilize water and soil, build biomass, fix nutrients, ameliorate microclimate and provide habitat, fodder, fuel and food in the early stages of system development.While naturalized species may be given a lower value in permaculture design than species regarded as indigenous to the site and region, the typical designation of naturalized species as ‘invasive species’ or ‘environmental weeds’ is typically rejected as anti-ecological thinking.”
David Holmgren quoted from “Weeds or wild nature: a permaculture perspective” in