Sunday, May 3, 2009

Willows on the 'Cheap'

In these days of belt tightening, it can put the hurt on the garden budget...or maybe that is only in my family. Besides lets face it, most gardeners love to brag about their latest plant, gardening tool, pot or garden accessory bargain.

Well, I would never stoop to that kind of bragging...but, while meandering through this year's Lawn and Garden show in Nashville (a great annual display of gardens and garden wares) I noticed a vendor selling red curly willow sticks and pussy willow twigs for a dollar each.

I was thinking I would love to have a RED curly willow in my yard and who doesn't just adore early springtime pussy willow twigs? I told my friend with me, "I bet I could root those sticks and for two bucks have them growing in my yard by spring".

We both got so excited at the prospects that we each bought a twig of each. I trimmed the ends about 1/4 of an inch and filled a five gallon bucket with good chlorinated city water and let them sit.

In about 8 weeks both willows had grown sufficient roots and leafed out. I planted them with a good measure of compost and just before the past three days of rain set in. I will have to keep them watered well through the hot and dry summer months to ensure their success since willows love wet areas. A great plant for a wetland type area in your landscape. Not a good idea to plant near septic lines though as the roots will head for water.

I wish I could brag I have the greenest of green thumbs but in all fairness, willows (in the Salix family) are about the easiest plants in the world to root. If I was really on my game, I could have just gotten a twig cutting from someones willow tree or cut pussy willow twigs in the wild and saved a couple of bucks. Yes, I probably would have asked for permission first...or at least forgiveness after!

And, they don't even have to be rooted in water. I have cut curly willow twigs and just stuck them in the ground in early spring or fall when rains were regular and they grew just fine.

Pussy willows are really a large shrub which can reach about 15 to 20 feet without pruning. They are dioecious though which means to bloom and form the soft catkins a male and female plant is needed. Which one did I root? I guess I will figure it out when it blooms next spring!

Red curly willow will become a small tree about 20-30 feet tall with contorted branches. Curly willow trees seem to be short lived...or maybe they die young in my garden (just can't take any more?) The last curly willow just passed and it was probably around 15 years old. (young for a tree). We ground the stump and I planted this twig there to start the circle of life once more. Being a 'red' curly willow I'm sure this new tree will be a real asset, adding much needed color to the garden in winter.

The Scent of Days Gone By

As I picked my first bouquet of Lily-of-the-Valley this week, I breathed deeply to get every little bit of scent. This incredible fragrance unlocks memories of a small girl growing up in Northern Michigan gathering Lily-of-the-Valley flowers for my mom. They grew just outside the back door in a nice neat rectangle mass.

A few years back I stopped by that old farm house and dug a few from the back door patch. Okay, so my family doesn't own that farm any longer but no one was living there at the time and I doubt anyone will every notice!

I packed them back to Tennessee and planted them at Hyssop Hill where they were very happy and reproduced nicely. When we moved to our new location, I was careful to dig a few to bring with for my new garden. I felt like a pioneer woman bringing slips of plants to the unknown so that when she got homesick there would be something familiar in the garden. Carefully I put tucked the little roots in the edge of the shade garden and waited for spring.

When spring came I was so happy that the family -Lilly-of-the-Valley plants pushed their way up through the soil and were displaying their lovely new shiny green leaves. As I admired my handiwork (well God's handiwork really - I only transplanted them) I noticed a foot or so away some other leaves that looked very similar. In fact there were many many leaves throughout that shady area with those leaves popping up.
You guessed it. The folks who gardened here before obviously loved this plant as well. In fact, as I started working my way through various beds they were everywhere, in every cultivated space. Yes, the joke was on me. But what a great plant to have in abundance. I can pick bouquets to my hearts delight and dance in my mind to the tune of happy girlhood memories of days gone by...but not forgotten. Happy to share if anyone would like some :)