There is one genus that has been thriving throughout this wet weather. Three months of torrential downpours and grey skies reminds us why no gardener should overlook the Willow genus. Let us not long for spring but instead linger in this damp moment a while. Whether your garden is big or small, it is time to make sure that when you look out of your window next January, there is a fire amongst the rain.
Salix alba ‘Chermesina’, aka ‘Britzensis’ is a fast growing, medium sized tree, whose young shoots are a brilliant red colour. Thriving in wet soil, this tree is easy to grow and reaches up to twelve meters. However, like all willows, ‘Chermesina’ responds well to both coppice and pollard. In fact, the more you prune, the redder the re-growth becomes.
A Burning Ring of Fire
I first met ‘Chermesina’ while gardening on thick clay in the Nadder valley. 68 standards were planted in concentric circles, three deep, with a two-meter wide pathway creating a cross in the middle of the circles. Each standard was pollarded at a height of two meters. Every year in March, the new growth was cut right back, leaving gnarled bare knuckles. Before long, each knuckle starts spouting a thick fist of fiery hair. By the time the last leaves have dropped, ‘Chermesina’ is ablaze with 1.5-meter shoots.
For those of us with less room, a similar effect can be achieved on a smaller scale if you cut the pollards to knee height. Each stem can be under-planted with complimentary bulbs and a ground cover, or evergreen fern. Instead of pollarding you could coppice, cutting ‘Chermesina’ to just above the ground. This can be done on a two-year rotation, creating a flaming bush effect.
For maximum fiery effect, plant ‘Chermesina’ where light falls directly upon them. Sidelight will do, but back light won’t bring out the best of the colour. It is also worth bearing in mind that Willow roots seek water, so take care not to plant too near to a drain or the side of your house.
Taking a cutting really is as easy as just snipping off a shoot and sticking it in the ground. This can be done in the middle of summer or as a hardwood cutting in the winter. When you prune your Willow in March, rather than throwing the year-old shoots away, think creatively. I know all you busy professionals are pushed for time, but take a Saturday morning to do some weaving. One option is to use an existing metal plant support and weave bands of willow shoots around it. The mixture of mediums is attractive, and you will have more material to tie to. Rings of Willow wrapped round three rods of hazel make great supports for your border perennials. Just be careful! If your willow touches soil it will root.