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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
Lengths of fresh flexible wood such as 2 year old canes removed
from redtwig dogwood, Japanese kerria or shrub willow.
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
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
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
- Place a second wand 6 inches away from and parallel to the
- 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,
- 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
- Place wand #9 to cross #8, and weave it back to the anchor
- 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
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
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
Wise wattle: Advanced tips
wattle words and
wattle for support
- 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!
- 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.
- 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
- 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
- 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,
- 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 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
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