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Green Mansions
Living willow structures enhance children's play environments.
By Sharon Gamson Danks

Many landscape architects and restoration ecologists in the United States are familiar with the use of living willow whips for creek restoration, bank stabilization, and related environmental remediation projects. Not as common in this part of the world is the use of freshly cut willow branches to create living fences, archways, domes, and other outdoor structures to enhance children's play environments. Whimsical living willow play structures are common in many schools and parks throughout England, southern Scandinavia, and other parts of Europe, where they are a relatively recent adaptation of traditional agricultural crafts.

Living willow play structures are dramatic focal points of parks and school grounds where they are installed, due to their dynamic and creative forms. Children love the dappled yellow-green light cast inside the structures as sunlight filters through the willow leaves. The seasonal changes evident in these deciduous structures are also quite appealing to children and adults, and encourage year-round play. Leafy branches in the spring and summer allow the children to feel "hidden" inside the living structures, although adults can see them clearly enough for proper supervision. Fall brings colorful leaf changes to many willow varieties that brighten the structures. Bare branches in the winter reveal a structure's interesting woven patterns while continuing to enhance outdoor learning environments and children's games.

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