Sunday, March 25, 2012

Willow By Any Name

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Kansas-NC basketball game is over and I can get back to some writing. It's been a long but productive day. The rain was doing its thing when I awoke and it continued on and off much of today. When I came out of the woods at almost 4 it was tapering off. I approached the woodpile with the 9th tractor bucket of blocked wood and thought I should go for a couple more but my wet shirt convinced me enough was enough.

My off season Sunday routine is to go to the local store and pick up my paper and come home for another coffee and the news. For some reason the Burlington Free Press, my preferred paper since 1966, has decided it doesn't want to be timely with deliveries. They came out with some new paper format a month or so ago and have been promoting on-line news but to the wrong guy. I remain one of those "hold newspaper between two hands" kind of guys and the absence of that feel irritates me. I intentionally went to the store later just hoping the paper would be there and as I drove in, the paper lady drove out. Success in a rural world!

I headed down to the flower farm for a quick visit as Gail has been working there for several days cleaning up and getting ready to uncover all the pots. I walked from one end of the 5 acres to the other and stopped for a few minutes to look over the willows. Salix has always interested me and I recall how my mother looked forward to spring when Pop would cut her big handfuls of 3 foot tall stems which she put in a tall vase he sent back from a WWII tour off the coast of China. I never heard or don't remember where the vase was actually acquired but Navy men swapped dollars in many places. My dad always loved my mom and always sent gifts and letters.

Willow is a nice name too and seeing willows in bloom at the flower farm made me feel good on a rainy morning. The supple stems move in the morning wind but today the rain drops held tightly to the catkins as if Super Glued on despite the weather. Back in the 60's Willow was used as a name and I knew a Willow that slipped away someplace towards the end of the 60's. Don't know where she went but she took a special memory with her.

So three years back I bought a couple willows that interested me because of their use in the floral industry. The image up top here shows the two willows planted in parallel rows. On the right side is Salix sepulcralis 'Erythroflesuosa', The Twisted Willow, originally from Argentina. Although it is recommended for zone 5, I know many people who grew it in colder climates. It grows crooked like a Lauder's Walking Stick and from winter on it exhibits a nice red-bronze color to the golden yellow stems. Florists like it because it gives them an interesting vertical representation and contrasting color combination different than other filler material.

Just behind the Twisted Willow and to the left is the Japanese Fantail Willow also known as the Dragon Willow, Salixundensis 'Sekka'. It is pictured by itself in the second picture down. This one can reach 15 feet wide and 20 feet tall over time but I am trying to build populations so I coppice them each spring right after the go to seed.

The Fantail Willow is peculiar because it puts out an abundance of beautiful stems with many fine catkins but also has heavily fasciated stems that twist and turn as flattened steps that are peppered with catkins in lines or appearing irregularly from everywhere. Once again, this is a florist's delight to work with but you have to know your audience or the oohs and aahs could turn derogatory. The next couple pictures give the perspective and I expect you either like them or you don't and I already know some will share opinions with me on this willow. As I write this I'm listening to 21 Adele and I'll bet she would be in the "I like 'Sekka' column.

Willows are very easy to grow and propagate. The Internet has many growers and an unrooted stem is usually less than $1.75 plus Shipping. They are sold like most floral products in bundles of ten and although they might look a little sorry when they arrive, a quick soak in a bucket of water and they'll be ready to plant. The Twisted Willows just below here are in abundance at the nursery from cuttings I took last summer and propagating simply means pushing a cutting into wet or damp soil and waiting.

Willows also have a history of being a natural rooting agent. In old days farmers would often take a couple branches of willow and cut them in 2"-3" pieces and leave them in a bucket of water for a few days. The resulting water can replace modern day rooting agents that cost $5-$9 for a one ounce container. Try some as the results will be equal or better.

As my album draws to a close, so do my thoughts about willows. We won't be officially open for business until Mothers Day in May but if you see the flower farm gate open and want to try your hand at willows, stop by and say hello. I can probably find some cuttings to get you going.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the wind has stopped but the temperature holds at 40°.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
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At VFF we are always available to help you grow your green thumb!

1 comment:

Salix said...

Love (your) willows George!
For most people willows are just "pussy willows" or the large weeping willows, but they are so much more and when you first get started working with them - it is hard to stop again.