In a park in the little village of Nanteuil-en-Vallee is to be found this living willow labyrinth, it is one of the nicest I have seen, well maintained, sitting happily in the landscape and visually pleasing even on a grey winters day.
Although there was no sign to say who had created it, I guessed it was probably done by Joel Rouillé as he has become an expert at these constructions and runs a business based in Villaine Les Rochers undertaking a wide variety of commissions for public spaces. I subsequently checked Joels website and found it there. http://www.joel-rouille-osier.com/ Joel acknowledges that it was his neighbour David Drew, the British basket maker, who introduced this type of diagonal woven living willow fence to France in 1994 when he planted one around the potager outside his troglodyte home in Villaines. This was in fact the second version as the first had been planted around his previous vegetable garden in
The following year David and his wife Judy created a sensation at the International Garden Festival at Chaumont with a much larger version of this fence. Constructed of zig-zag willow walls using his now perfected technique and white gravel, it had a strong visual presence that altered with the seasons. The completed installation offered a unique experience to anyone entering between the walls and it became one of the most popular exhibits that year. As a consequence of the publicity they received the living willow fence is now a regular feature in parks and gardens worldwide.
|Image from a postcard of David and Judy Drews installation at Chaumont Garden Festival 1995. |
Original photo:Yann Arthus Bertrand
|Image taken from 'Grown Home an exploration of processes for the manufacture and culture of willow products' 2003 Lois Walpole|
Medieval gardeners created their fences to keep animals in or out or to act as windbreaks for cultivated gardens. Arthur Weichula saw a practical and commercial purpose for these fences but I feel sure they would all have also enjoyed the evolution of the diagonal living wood fence into something that can also have a place in landscape design equal to that of topiary. Both plant and sculpture, Joel's Labyrinth is the successful result of a symbiotic relationship between man and nature where neither can exist without the other.