Mention willows and many people first think “pussy willows”. Usually people think of the large catkins that are produced in the spring on Salix caprea, S. cinerea, or S. chaenomeloides, but many of the willows produce attractive catkins. Willows are dioecious, which means that male and female flowers are born on different plants. In addition, depending on the species, catkins are produced before leaves (precocious), at the same time (coetaneous), or after the leaves have formed (serotinous). So it goes without saying that there will be a lot of variation in how different cultivars flower and their ornamental quality.
Sometimes you get a package deal like these catkins on this Japanese variety that has ‘fasciated’ stems. Other times the catkins are small and almost inconspicuous like the ones below.
For some gardeners, the catkins are the whole reason for having the willows. The catkins are just an extra benefit for us. There is nothing like a cool, sunny day in February or March with the catkins popping on the willows. A little later and a little warmer, the anthers will start to open and bees will emerge to visit the flowers. That’s when I realize I better get working and get the willows cut before they leaf out! Right now I still have the time to admire the black catkins of melanostachys against the blue sky.
Katherine made these bike baskets for this classic Sears bike back in November. These were made for our friend Eddie Gordon who wanted the orange stripe to match an orange stripe decal on the bike. These were the second pair of square pannier style bike baskets that Katherine has made. She had made a pair previously for her own bike. The baskets are fairly large at about 14 inches long by 10 inches wide at the top border by 12 inches deep. They taper to a base at 11 inches by 7 inches. The inside dimensions are 13″ x 9″ tapering to 10″ x 6″. (The square shape is essential for a six pack!) They have a heavy wire woven in to the basket near the top. There are loops formed from the wire that hang over the rear rack. The baskets can be easily removed by just lifting them up.
outside view of wire loops
inside view of wire hanger
You can see examples of front handle baskets that Katherine weaves and sells in this post.
Greetings from the Skagit Valley on Groundhog Day. Or is it Candelmas? Or a celebration of the Irish Goddess Brigit? Or Saint Brigit? It is certainly a point in the year when we are thinking about the coming of Spring. Indeed the willow is beginning to swell its buds. Some of the earlier varieties are even showing their first catkins. I thought I would upload these photos Katherine took of a potato basket, or skib, being made. She took a series of step by step photos to use as a handout for an upcoming basketry class. An Irish basket seems appropriate to the day (since I don’t have any “Brigit’s crosses” to show – Update: we do have a Brigid’s cross post now). There are good photos and descriptions of skibs in the Irish basketmaker Joe Hogan’s book “Basketmaking in Ireland”.
We have been growing willow for basketry since 1994 at Dunbar Gardens. As Katherine became interested in willow basketmaking, she realized she would need to grow her own materials since very little cultivated willow was available to purchase in our area. In addition, it gave her more choice in selecting the size, color, flexibility and other characteristics of the willow she weaves with. As a result, we have tried quite a number of species and varieties of Salix here and currently have 60 varieties growing. We have planted over ten thousand willow cuttings on our Skagit Valley farm. Willow is easy to propagate in most soils. An eight to twelve inch cutting taken from a dormant one year old rod is planted directly into the ground in Spring. March thru April is an ideal time to plant. We have willows that are useful for basketry, garden trellises, living fences, furniture, and ornamental hedges. Willow is a very useful family of plants!
We have a list and descriptions of some of the varieties that we have had success with on our website. We are now cutting our willows and will begin shipping orders for cuttings next month.