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Fulham Palace gets weaving

by Jamie Atwell, garden and wattle fence volunteer

One of the most significant developments in the Garden at Fulham Palace for many years is the creation of the “Bishop Compton Bed” which is part of the Heritage Lottery funded restoration project. This is a new bed to the south of the Walled Garden which is to be the home of many plants originally introduced to this country by Bishop Compton who was Bishop of London from 1675 to 1713. Compton, a keen botanist, was responsible for sending missionaries to the New World (amongst other places) and one member of  his “team” was the Reverend John Banister who sent back from Virginia many seeds and specimens never before known in Europe. Compton grew many of these successfully and the Garden at Fulham Palace during his tenure became one of the most important and famous botanic gardens in the Old World.

It has long been the vision of head gardener Lucy Hart to re-establish a number of these specimens today. To that end the new bed has been created. To give it even more visual appeal, the Palace’s landscape architects had come up with the idea of a wattle fence bordering the new bed. Accordingly, one late November day, Lucy and her full time team along with seven Garden Volunteers assembled to make the new fence under the expert tutelage of Clive Leeke, a wattle fencing specialist.

As one of the Volunteers involved, I can attest that the creation of a wattle fence from scratch is not a straightforward process. Firstly, the border of the bed needed to be accurately measured to establish where fence posts would be inserted (us Volunteers wisely left this particular aspect to the experts). That done, posts needed to be cut by hand (and axe!) to give them a sharp enough point for driving into the soil. Once that had been completed, the posts were driven home in the exact spots (exact mind you) that Lucy had marked out. As the Garden is listed as an Ancient Scheduled Monument there are strict regulations that need to be observed when delving beneath the Garden’s surface. For this reason we were only able to drive in the posts to a specific agreed depth, so again tape measures came to the fore. This gave us the skeleton of the fence enabling us to move on to stage two.

Next came the most fun bit of the process. This involved the weaving of hazel wands (coppiced from Clive’s own land in Berkshire the week before). We were shown the way to establish the crucial first step which is the weaving of two wands behind and before each post alternately. Once that had been done we could then crack on with the rest of the weaving. Split in to groups of 3 or 4 we each had a bunch of hazel wands approximately 4 metres tall which were then woven onto the frame of stakes – to the cry of “behind the first in front of the second” and, for the next wand, “in front of the first behind the second”. As the fence tapers in height at its eastern and western end it was important not to get too carried away in adding too many layers. Should a hazel wand not fit exactly between fence posts then the shortfall had to be cut “longitudinally” to fit snugly beside the nearest fence post so that there was no unsightly shortfall.

The end result looks absolutely stunning and the fence itself has an impressive visual appeal – even before the plants go in. The wood used in the fencing is anticipated to last for some ten years. The whole exercise has been great fun and immensely satisfying and I keenly look forward to 2028 (or thereabouts) when I can have another go.