Jill Pillsworth, a native of Port Hope, Ontario, has been in the horticultural business all of her life. She began her career working with one of Canada's largest wholesale/retail nurseries in the growing divisions of the company. She has had her own retail/wholesale nursery and commercial/residential landscaping companies. Jill is known in certain circles as 'Madame Twig I'.
Ten years ago Jill purchased some curly willow branches for Christmas decorating and the idea for The Branch Ranch was born. Jill and her partner Jackie Luttikhuis began to plant and propagate the various colours of dogwood, curly willow and pussy willow, field by field, on the hills of their Warkworth, Ontario farm. Within four years they had cultivated 25 acres of cut branch material. Clients over the years included wholesale floral suppliers, large chain grocery stores, retail garden centre, specialty food shops, landscape designers and commercial seasonal container companies.
Jackie Stafford was born in Ireland and immigrated to Canada as a child. She studied art at OCAD and has been a successful freelance illustrator for 30 years. Her illustration can be found on publishing, advertising and editorial projects for companies in Canada, the US and UK.
In 2006 Jackie S., aka Madame Twig II, joined The Branch Ranch, helping out part-time in the harvest and is now a partner in the business. In addition to helping with the harvest, farm sale, teaching and field work, Jackie S. handles photography, marketing, social media and web design.
The idea for Warkworth Willow Works began in the summer of 2013 when Jackie and Jill were approached by Barb Phillips, a practising Thanadoula, who was looking for willow coffins for natural burials. The idea was intriguing to them both so they took a basketry class with Lene Rasmussen, a Danish weaver living in Ontario, and their journey into the world of willow began.
In 2014 they travelled to England and Wales to learn from Mel Bastier and Eddie Glew, two well known basket weavers in the UK. Since then they have planted almost 20,000 willows for basketry and living willow projects. The following year Jackie and Jill began teaching a few beginner basketry classes and have continued to take workshops, in 2015 with Ane Lyngsgaard and 2016 with Anne Mette Hjornholm.
Their basketry pieces are created as a way to explore, experiment and acknowledge the beauty of the plants and materials they grow and gather. Inspired by nature and the breathtaking views of the hills of Northumberland where they live, these two women have embraced this craft and are both excited to share their passion for willow with others. Weaving has become a very important part of their lives.