Wednesday, 8 April 2020

Willow patterns

Golden Willows, pollarding in progress

Yesterday I finished pollarding the ornamental willows in the wildflower border between the croquet lawn and the beech hedge. Their bare stems provide winter colour, but every year they must be cut down to the stumps or they would grow too tall, and older stems lose their vivid colour. It looks rather brutal, but within a few weeks the stumps spring into growth, and by the autumn the shoots are up to 8 ft tall. In winter sun they become brilliant candles against the brown leaves of the beech.
A brutally pollarded stump

There are 3 each of 3 different varieties: Golden Willow (Salix alba 'Vitellina'), Coral Willow (Salix alba 'Britzensis'), and Violet Willow (Salix daphnoides 'Aglaia'). When I planned the planting I was aiming for a rainbow effect and chose cultivars said to be of equal vigour. For me, however, 'Britzensis' is somewhat outgrown by the other two, and though the tips of the stems are coral red, the effect is little different to 'Vitellina'. 'Aglaia' stems are such a dark red that they barely stand out against the hedge, but they do produce some 'pussy willow' blossoms in March. I sometimes wonder if I should have stuck with just 'Britzensis', but truth to tell I love them all!

'Aglaia's pussy catkins

The border beneath the willows is mostly planted with native wildflowers, though there are also snowdrops and a few daffodills,which bloom successively from now to the summer. They seed themsleves around and the only maintenance they need is a rough chop back of last years dead stems, and removing perennial weeds like docks and dandelions, which otherwise would take over. It becomes a lovely ever-changing tapestry of colour. The show begins with Red Campion (just starting now) continuing with White Campion and pink hybrids, continuing in the summer with Dog Daisy and blue Meadow Cranesbill, with Great Knapweed, Chicory and wild Marjoram continuing on to autumn.

The Wildflower Border at the end of May 2018

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