Tales from the Wood

Lorem ipsum dolor

Lorem ipsum dolor

Norfolk Reed
Norfolk reed, or to be more accurate Phragmites australis is the signature plant species of our village common; it’s what makes the common so environmentally distinctive and visually exciting. It’s the backdrop, against which, everything else: willow, willow herb and rush, takes its place. I was walking through the boardwalk just this afternoon and once again marvelled at the contrast between the fresh vibrant green stems, springing from last winter’s cut and the mature parchment-tinted reeds, matured and sun-dried for three years. Of course this is entirely due to management– a well rehearsed regime of cutting, clearing and rotating, all designed to mimic what was, after all, a genuine working environment, where the reeds were cut, not for the amenity value of the landscape but for the material value of the crop.

Harvesting reed for Thatching has a long tradition in Norfolk but thatching-reed has to be of a particular quality and cut on a yearly cycle (which they call single wale). The common’s reed beds are cut in a way that is more environmentally focused (a two or three year rotation is actually better for wildlife). This also suits the volunteer workforce who, after all, are driven by the joy of it all, rather than the sale of the harvest.

For many years now I’ve been trying to find ways in which reed can be used for projects other than for thatching and in particular for sculpture. Of course Norfolk reed is perfect for thatching because it’s stiff, smooth and, when dry, sheds water. As a medium for sculpture however, it’s not particularly forgiving or easy to work. One thing’s for certain, it doesn’t bend, and belief me, I’ve tried everything from steaming to (very toxic) chemical treatments – it just won’t budge. Reed is particularly high in the glass-like material silica, which explains why the ancient Chinese potters used reed-ash as the basis for their glazes. This also goes some way in explaining its brittleness.

It does however bundle and bunch very beautifully and this is key to working with reed – you have to use methods that are sympathetic to its working character (which is another way of saying: ‘do what it tells you and stop trying to be clever’). As the photographs below go to show - you can bunch it, bind it and bundle it, but whatever you do, don’t bend it!