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Monday, August 31, 2015


I’ve been struck with willow-fever and I’m as surprised as anyone that this would happen to me. Salix-sickness is a state I’d never dreamed I’d find myself in, having spent most of my adult years at least, talking willows down, avoiding planting them and even hauling them out wherever I found them growing in gardens I was developing. They seemed so ordinary; too easy to grow and too vigorous to live amongst the trees I fancied. But I’ve been struck with a bout of willow-fancy and my enthusiasm for them is showing no bounds. Or rather, few bounds, as I’m still not taken by the crack willows that choke our Southland rivers, though I’m told the trout fishers like them. It’s the rest of the family I’ve taken a shine too; the pussies in particular and the reason I’ve been seeing the salix family in this new light is because I put two and two together, or rather, combined the  concept of coppicing and willows and realised that I could grow salix of all stripes and manage them in a way that satisfied both me and them. Cutting willows to the ground every other year means they stay at a reasonable height and produce brighter pussies, cleaner stems and less shade. They suck up less water too, though here in Southland, dry isn’t a big issue. It was an apiarist who alerted me to the value of the pussy-willows, telling me that his hives thrived on the high-protein pollen collected by his bees in the early spring from the puffy willow flowers. That was a fairly good reason to plant a pussy willow, I thought and then I saw my first violet willow – oh, my goodness, those pussies! They were pearly-white and silky, set off to perfection by the purple stems of the salix and I was smitten by the sight of them! I collected pussy-studded stems and arranged them in a water-less vase to keep them sound and un-blown for as long as possible, and took cuttings from flowerless branches and stood those in a jar of water to do what willows do so well; root. I’m going to grow a stand of violet willows, once they’ve developed their skeins of white roots, somewhere in my garden, and coppice them regularly to keep them fresh and vibrant. My old aversion to willows is well and truly gone, thanks to the glorious violet willow and I’ve begun to search for others in the salix clan that might excite me also. Only today, I was shown by the owner/planter of a private arboretum I was visiting, after a little wheedling from me, two more spectacular willows; one hailing from China, salix magnifica, with leaves like those of a magnolia and flowers that stand bolt up-right rather than hang pendulously in the way of the willow, and the other from Lebanon, dry and un-willowy Lebanon, salix something-or-other; my friend couldn’t recall the botanical name but did know that it’s one of the very, very few willows that don’t enjoy soggy ground. I’ve brought home stems from both trees and will tease roots out of them as soon as I can.

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