“O! The Happy Willow Tree” William Morris’s Love for Willows

O! the happy willow tree,
   With the river by it sighing,
            And the swallow by it flying…

William Morris, Willow and the Red Cliff, c. 1853

This poem by William Morris, according to the Pre-Raphaelite painter and friend of William Morris, Sir Edward Burne-Jones, represents his first foray into poetry. From early on, the poem establishes the willow tree as a poignant symbol in Morris’s life. We’ll see the willow appear in later poems and designs, often used as a vehicle to express his complex thoughts and feelings about the natural world.

After co-creating Morris & Co. in 1861, Morris’s next exploration of the willow appears in the 1874 design, Willow. Predating the popular Willow Boughs by 13 years, Willow is a simple rendering of pointed willow leaves and branches, overlapping to create a sense of texture and depth. Revolting against the contemporary ethic of decadent trompe l’oeil effects, Morris chose to foreground only the subtle silhouette of a tree.

Willow Boughs, from 1887, represents Morris’s evolving thoughts and facility in rendering scenes of nature. In contrast to Willow, Willow Boughs offers characterfully curling leaves and an intertwining effect that is simultaneously elegant and soothing. Retaining the simplicity of Willow, Willow Boughs’ overlapping branch network conveys a depth that captivates long after the first glance. Morris’s skill was in doing so without relying upon an elaborate pattern or diverse colour palette.

New for 2022, we’re re-introducing a version of the 1874 Willow rarely seen in contemporary or classic interiors. Emery’s Willow finds its inspiration from an uncommon colourway of the 1874 Willow, found in Morris’s friend, neighbour and collaborator’s Dining Room, Sir Emery Walker.

Helping to elevate the simple willow outline are playful bubble-like shapes, a kindly contrast to the pointed outline of the tree. Emery’s Willow is available in the colourway found in Emery Walker’s House at 7 Hammersmith Terrance, a tone we’ve affectionately called Emery’s Blue. This deep navy intermixes with the light blue bubbles to amplify the willow outline. Herball, Citrus Stone and Chrysanthemum Pink offer vibrant variations as wallpaper.


Emery’s Willow is just one design that pays homage to the creative relationship between Morris and Walker. To find more, explore the Emery Walker’s House collection below.

In collaboration with the World of Interiors, we've created a little film to accompany the Emery Walker's House. 



posted on 19 Jan 2023 in History

©2024 Sanderson Design Group, All Rights Reserved.