Willow suckers helping stabilize slope on Gordon Head property

Project repairs the instability of the 64-degree slope that was eroding into the sea

George Zeman is thrilled to see the willow suckers covering the embankment of his Juniper Place home after two kilometres of willow wattling was installed in the winter to stabilize the eroding cliff. The top photo

George Zeman is thrilled to see the willow suckers covering the embankment of his Juniper Place home after two kilometres of willow wattling was installed in the winter to stabilize the eroding cliff. The top photo

The rapid growth of willow suckers is ending the dangerous erosion of George Zeman’s beachfront house in Gordon Head.

Zeman took the property on at a discount not knowing how he would solve the instability of the 64-degree slope that was eroding into the sea about halfway between Mount Douglas beach and Cormorant Point.

After some research, he hired soil bioengineer David Polster in the winter and Polster’s crew installed about 1.5 kilometres of willow wattling and stakes. The process terraced the bank with willow branches and trunks, from which the suckers have now grown as high as six feet. The work resembles slope stabilization projects Polster has previously completed in Saanich, including along the Colquitz River.

“At first I was a little worried the suckers weren’t growing, we hit a dry spell there, but by keeping the bank moist the willows have just shot up,” Zeman said. “The roots of these suckers go down almost as far as they are high.”

The total project cost Zeman about $100,000, he said. It rectifies the reckless tree removal of previous owners who sought better views of the Salish Sea. A walk along the beach towards Mount Douglas reveals similar Saanich properties at risk, with slides showing evidence of erosion.

Because the willows are native, and the installation of each willow stake is small and directly into the soil, it was within the strict Saanich riparian zone requirements.

Zeman is hoping others with the same problem will consider willow wattling as natural and safe solution. He can be reached at georgezeman@pembertonholmes.com.