|Image from Scottish Country Life by Alexander Fenton,|
John Donald Publishers Ltd.1989
Threshers on Foula
“Basket making” is really a misnomer for all that this craft encompasses because it is possible, with these materials and techniques, to make plenty of things that are not baskets: jewellery, buildings, sculpture, boats, fences, shoes, furniture. The list is endless, and much of it can be done with little money and without causing undue harm to our ecosystem. Perhaps, it is both these things that make it so right for the time we are living in.
Few of the main grower’s web sites discuss the company’s spraying policies and neither do they offer non-sprayed or organic willows. I imagine therefore that a lot of the people buying these willows assume that they are buying a natural, organic product because it looks like one and not one that could indirectly be harming the environment in which it grows, and that also contributes to yet more profits for Monsanto et al!
Ultimately, it comes down to education, and this is something we briefly touched on in the discussion, but which seems to me to be very important. The general public in the UK, despite being the purchasers of large quantities of basket ware, (according to UK trade statistics over 28 million pounds worth of imported wickerwork and basketwork so far in 2012) is still largely ignorant about basket making and its related activities. I still meet many people who think that the cheap imported baskets they buy in shops are made by machine and very few people can distinguish between native willow and imported cane. Perhaps we need some 'TV basket makers' who can show people not only how easy it is to make something, but who could extol the virtues of indigenous 'ingredients' and 'recipes' and enthuse a whole generation with the magic of cooking up wonderful things with this amazingly versatile and sustainable activity.
I know it isn't easy to grow willows organically, I grow them myself, but it is certainly possible and there are plenty of individuals and several companies operating in the UK selling a good range of organic willow that they cultivate Water Willows in Milton Keynes is probably the biggest certified organic grower but there are smaller ones such as Blencogo and Barfad in Scotland.
It is still a dust bowl here in France but maybe it isn’t just the grass that is greener in Scotland.