A Way with Willow: Basket-Materials Farmer Howard Peller’s Handcrafted Willow Structures

Reader Contribution by Wendy Gregory
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 “Farming willow and making baskets exemplifies the way I personally link an agrarian way of life with an artisanal handcraft. I use the willow I grow on our farm in Roseville, Ohio to make baskets and garden structures that serve as useful and purposeful objects in everyday life.”

Willow farmer Howard Peller not only grows 20,000 plants in over 100 varieties of willow on his 140-acre farm in the center of Ohio, he creates with the willow as well. His play structure installations for nature playscapes, arboretums, and children’s gardens can be found throughout the United States. Peller’s Central Ohio designs close to the farm can be enjoyed at the Children’s Garden at Franklin Park Conservatory in Columbus, Dawes Arboretum in Newark, Ohio, and the nature playscape at AHA! A Hands-On Adventure Children’s Museum in Lancaster, Ohio. Howard provides willow for nature playscape leader Rusty Keeler’s Earthplay online store. His willow also became part of the woven structure of the Children’s Museum of Denver at Marsico Campus.

Franklin Park Conservatory Columbus, Ohio

Using Willow for Arts and Crafts

“Basic metal tools of billhook, knife, shears and awl allow me to harvest and create wonderfully useful articles for personal living.”

Basket-materials farmer and willow artist Howard Peller

At the Muskingum County farm, the plants are cut in late winter near the base, called coppicing, causing them to regenerate for continual future cuttings. Dried for two years, the willow bundles are then sent around the world for use in baskets or furniture or woven by Peller into structures and baskets and sold on his website. Live cuttings are put into cold storage for spring planting, used for living structures designed and installed by Peller or sold for individuals creating their own willow tunnels and structures.

Peller’s work is informed by extensive travel throughout the world, working side-by-side with weavers in South America, Europe, India, Jamaica and Haiti. His experience as Longaberger Basket Company VP of design and product development for all product categories and Founder of the Design Center to prototype new concepts promoting the handcraft legacy story influence his vision — as well as experience as a product designer and model-maker for Wilton Armetale, Anchor Hocking, Bloomer Chocolate, Burley Clay, Restoration Hardware, Martha Stewart, Tiffany, Block China, Bath and Body Works, and Portugal Ceramics.

AHA! Children’s Museum Lancaster, Ohio

Willow Applications for Small Homesteads

While willow farming and producing on the scale of Peller’s operation takes a dedication, passion and lifetime of creative experience, small homesteaders can use willow as hedges, fences, walls, wind barriers, and for erosion prevention as they typically do in Europe.

A small patch of 200 to 500 willow plants can be used to make baskets or willow structures for personal use or small-scale sales and they can also be used as fodder for sheep and goats. Cutting takes place in January and February on Peller’s Ohio farm and he sells the willow sticks for planting in March and April nationwide.

Peller’s farm in Roseville, Ohio

Wendy Gregoryspent her career working with children as a culinary and gardening teacher in an arts-based summer camp for at-risk children in Nelsonville, Ohio, and as the director of a children’s museum in Lancaster, Ohio. She is a freelance writer exploring the ways seniors can contribute, grow, and reinvent themselves in a new chapter of life. Read all of Wendy’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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