For the last two or three weeks, Ezio has been up a ladder more rickety than the one I use to rescue cats from awkward rooftops. Here, there and everywhere on the north side of Carmine, his tweed hat has been popping up a couple of metres above where it’s normally seen. And there’s always one of his cats sitting at the foot of the ladder nagging him : “Come down! It’s not safe!”
He’s tying in the vines. And once he gets started, he does the lot. His own vines, Franco’s vines, our vines. Basically any vine within view doesn’t escape being pruned and retied, fitted out for the forthcoming year.
The process starts by cutting the willows that have been planted all along one of Carmine’s several streams. The trees are reduced almost to stumps as last year’s shoots are taken right back to the trunks. The stems are bound into those sculptural sheafs so beloved of any photographic stylist with a warehouse-style set to dress – you know, those accessories we thought would look so lovely with our stripped or laminate floors and when we had struggled them all the way home on the tube they just gathered dust and got in the way.
Instead of winding up in a despondent huddle in Oxfam, these sheafs are left to stand upright in the stream so that the water keeps the stems supple. They’re then used to tie everything from vines to fences. Once they’re dry they don’t come loose all year, come rain, hail, wind, frost, ice or snow. Next spring they’ll have to be cut away with a deft blow (or, in my case, several wild swipes) of the machete.
It strikes me that willow is a pretty useful kind of tree. It grows near water. Its roots keep the river banks in one place. Its branches grow like the blazes, and it strikes easily. It shades my lettuces from the full glare of the July sun. Its fallen leaves can be scooped up for compost. Its shoots are used in place of those plastic landfill-destined thingummyjigs so beloved of cut-price D-I-Y stores, to tie anything semi-permanent. They can also be woven together for baskets, fences and, conceivably, buildings. I could even train branches into decorative archways and grow roses up them if I had green fingers (which I don't). And when the ties or the baskets or the fences or even the trees themselves get so old as to be beyond use, they can be put on the fire to keep us warm and cheerful on a cold February night.
Now that's what I call a good all-rounder.
Copyright © Louise Bostock 2007, 2008. All rights reserved. Please ask first.