An old construction technique that’s perfect for the modern garden

Story and Photos by Cynthia Wood

If you’ve visited historical gardens, you’ve probably noticed fences that resemble wooden croquet wickets. These are variations of wattle, an ancient craft that’s been practiced in England and Europe since the Bronze Age. 

Although wattle was traditionally made with willow (Salix) or beech (Fagus), found garden materials such as limbs and small branches left from pruning fruit trees or shrubs can be used. Small trees and bushes left from clearing overgrown areas are perfect. All that invasive honeysuckle that you’ve been trying to remove? It’s the perfect binding material. So are grapevines. The only rule is to use the materials while they’re still pliable. 

Wickets are the simplest project: cut a sturdy but flexible branch to the desired length, remove leaves and twigs, bend it into a semicircular shape, and push both ends into the ground. Wickets can be overlapped slightly to create a low, protective border around plants and along paths. Multiple wickets can be placed over small plants to protect them. They can also be used in pots of paperwhites (Narcissus papyraceus) and other leggy plants to provide support.

Overlapping wickets make an attractive low border around plants.

Variations on the basic wicket can be used to fashion supports for peonies (Paeonia spp.) and Chrysanthemum. Cut four small branches, slightly longer than the anticipated height of the plant, and push them into the ground equidistant around the plant when it’s just emerging. Twist the vines together and use them to form one or two circles around the branches. As the plant grows, gently push all stems inside the circles. By the time the plant has reached maturity, the support will be almost invisible.

Multiple wickets can be placed over a tender plant to protect it from visitors.

Wattle-Type Fences
Traditional wattle fences are panels that can be moved from one location to another and put together in many different configurations. To make a simpler version, pound sturdy sticks into the ground approximately 24-36 inches apart. Weave long limbs in and out of the upright sticks. It’s usually best to alternate the thick and thin ends with each new row and to push the horizontal limbs down firmly. When the fence is the desired height, trim the ends to roughly the same length. They can be secured with vines or topped with a larger limb for a more decorative look.

Honeysuckle vines (Lonicera spp.) make strong binding materials, perfect for most projects.
Vines of all sizes are essential materials for most wattle-type projects.

Other Fanciful Projects
Depending on the materials available, just about anything can be constructed – arches and tripods for vines, garden gates, tomato cages, even fanciful shelters. Let your materials inspire you. Most of these projects use the same basic techniques of weaving and binding. For larger projects, you may want to strengthen joints by binding them with both twine or fine wire and vines. Experiment, invite friends to add the final decorative details of a project, and you’ll have fun, as well as useful new items for your garden.

As plants grow, the surrounding support of vines and stakes disappears.
This small structure has just been started. At the next party, friends will add vines and branches to the sides to partially enclose them.
This wattle container is part of a woodland garden where it can be used to collect pinecones.
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