Wattle we do at the zoo

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Weaving wattle fencing in the pattern we call Ziggy Zoo

How to, and
Advanced wattle tips and references

 

Dear Janet and Steven,

We love the wattle fences you showed in your presentation! Where can we get wattle? - V.B.-

You can purchase ready-made wattle sections  -- hurdles (search wattle hurdles on the Internet) -- but we make them. Here's how.

 

1) Prepare wands:

Lengths of fresh flexible wood such as 2 year old canes removed from redtwig dogwood, Japanese kerria or shrub willow.

Functional and beautiful, yellow willow canes made into the wattle pattern we call Ziggy Zoo.

Functional and beautiful, yellow willow canes made into the wattle pattern we call Ziggy Zoo.

Most of the canes we use to weave
 wattle at our Detroit Zoo
 Adopt-a-Garden come from pruning
 we do at the zoo and other sites, or
 volunteers' own gardens. This yellow
 willow came by way of a volunteer.
 It's probably a variety of white
 willow, perhaps
 
 Salix alba vitellina 'Britzensis.'

 

 Remove lowest and excess branches. Some side branches on the upper portion of the
 wand can be helpful. The wand tip and its branches can be bunched and woven as one,
 giving an otherwise thin whip the strength of multi-strand cable.

 Wands should be about 2-1/2 times as long as your desired fence height; e.g. 4-5 feet
 long to create a fence 2 feet tall.

 You will need 3 or 4 wands per linear foot of fencing.

2) Anchor the fence.

Cut a stout branch to make a stake 8-12 inches longer than the fence will be tall.

Pound or push that stake into the ground at your starting point. Position it straight up and down; i.e. perpendicular to the plane of the ground.

3) Place first posts.

  • Push a wand into the ground at an angle leaning away from the anchor.
  • Place a second wand 6 inches away from and parallel to the first.
  • Place another 4 angled wands at six inch intervals along the fence line. (This creates a strong fence. If strength is not an issue, spacing can be wider and fewer wands used.)

4) Begin weaving (below, left).

  • Place a wand angled to cross the first six posts. (#7, in this illustration.) Push its butt end firmly into the ground just beyond the sixth post.
  • Weave this wand in front of post #6, behind #5, in front of #4, etc.
  • Wrap or tie off the tip to the anchor post.

5) Continue weaving all the rest of the fence.

  • Place wands in pairs, one angled away from the anchor stake in the direction the fence is "growing", and the other angled back across it. In this  illustration:
  • Place wand #8 parallel to #6, angling away from the anchor.
  • Place wand #9 to cross #8, and weave it back to the anchor post.
  • Place wand #10 to angle away from the anchor stake.
  • Place wand #11 to cross #10, and weave it back toward the anchor post, twisting the tip into or tying it to the already woven wattle.

 

6) Weave upright tips into the fence.

  • Bend the upright wands (such as #12, above) and weave them forward into the fence once the odd numbered wands no longer reach them.

 

7) End a line of wattle

  • Do this by placing a second anchor and crossing it with one or two final weavers. A closed rectangle or circle fence simply ends back at the original anchor post.

Below: One of the things we love about our wattle at he Detroit Zoo is its organic flow. Sections vary in detail but because we all use the same wood and the same base pattern, the sections flow together. Here, volunteers weave golden willow: from left, Phil Gigliotti, Nora Gessert and Kathy O'Gorman, Lynn McAllister and Mary Wente-Lindsay.

 

Below: Each person or pair in our "zoo crew" weaves one section and joins to the next by weaving their final uprights into the other's lattice. Here are Nora Gessert and Kathy O'Gorman making the connection between  their work on the right and Phil Gigliotti's (left). Nora (in white) stands at the junction.

Wise wattle: Advanced tips

While weaving,
which wood
,
wattle longevity,
wattle words and references,
wattle for support

 

While weaving

  • When weaving a wand with a branched tip, bunch and hold the branches to weave it as one piece, like a multi-strand cable.
  • Keep this fence from inching up to a taller height than you planned. Push weaving wands down so that the top of each wand's arc is at or below the desired fence height.
  • A wand is still usable if it cracks, as long as it does not break entirely. Keep weaving!

 

Which wood

  • Almost any flexible wood can be used to weave wattle. The Ziggy Zoo pattern can be difficult to complete with brittle wood; it's most easily made from very flexible canes from shrubs such as dogwood, willow, or kerria.
  • Stiff, brittle wood is more suited to wicker-like wattle. (Right.)

 

  • Leftover, thin or short bits can become a deadhedge. This small wattle section is a deadhedge -- two lines of posts set into the ground, with the space between them filled with loose branches. The wood is seven son shrub, too inflexible for weaving but an attractive light color edging here.
  • For a supply of canes for weaving wattle,  plant a hedge and cut it to the ground every 1-3 years in spring (coppice it), or thin it annually by pruning out 1/3 to 1/2 the stems.
  • Plants that provide wood for wattle are alder, bamboo, beech, birch, chaste tree (Vitex), dogwood, elderberry, hazel, linden, maple, redbud, seven son shrub (Heptacodium), sycamore, tree of heaven and willow (shrubby species as well as trees).

 

Wattle longevity

  • If very freshly-cut wands are used for wattle and the soil remains moist along the fence line, some wands may take root. If many canes strike root you can nurture them and prune carefully to create a living wattle fence.
  • A wattle fence may last for a year or several years, varying with the type and thickness of wood and amount of contact with moisture. The longest lasting wattle is probably wicker pattern made with posts of rot resistant wood such as cedar (juniper or arborvitae).
  • A Ziggy Zoo fence's life can be extended by using cedar for every fourth or fifth wand.
  • We replace our zoo fences every year or two to keep them strong and colorful, and to create learning opportunities for those who help us at the garden. We plan ahead for the disposal of spent fencing, using only biodegradable string and working without nails or wire. Thus we can send decrepit wattle to a brush pile.

 

Wattle words and references

  • The long straight branches we call canes or wands are more traditionally known as withies. (There are more such terms in our Scrabbling department: brashings, coppice, deadhedging, withies...)
  • Portable sections of wattle fencing are called hurdles and are used as gates or moved about as temporary barriers.
  • Weaving wattle is a very old craft. Every conceivable pattern has been developed. So this pattern we call Ziggy Zoo is not new -- we probably borrowed or reinvented an old idea. However, if it's a copy we've forgotten where we saw the original and what other name it may have had.
  • We've looked and not yet found a reference that simply provides wattle patterns. Wattle of many types can be seen in drawings and paintings from medieval and colonial times. Workshops are sometimes offered at historical sites or by coppicing societies. Glean more by searching indexes and the Internet for wattle fencing, wattle hurdle,  coppice and coppicing.

Wattle evolves every time it's made. This fence shown in "Wattle redtwig wanted..." was made to the Ziggy Zoo pattern, but then the look changed a bit when weavers added a few leftover pieces as lower-level hoops.

 

Wattle for support

Wattle can stake or support as well as fence.

Every wattle project is as unique as the person doing the weaving and the material at hand. We handed some golden willow canes to Virginia Bergin and Judy Storrs and said, "Make some supports for these willows -- you can probably weave these side branches around the plants and use canes across the top..."

A few minutes later, when another volunteer asked what they were up to, they replied as every wattle weaver through the ages might say, "We don't really know, we're making it up as we go along!"