At A Glance: Fan Willow Branches




Spring container planting with fresh fan willow


Winter containers with fan willow

Big Stalky Stems

My friend and great gardener RB brought these to me this afternoon; I could not resist photographing them.   I knew right away what they were, but I could not believe their extraordinary size.  They are hollow stalks; this picture I took of the interior wall.

 This picture of the bottom was taken from the top.

I could barely get my hand around one.

They were prominently segmented.

He cut these pieces a full 18″ off the ground-with his pruning loppers.  No pair of pruners would have been adequate to the job.

I have never seen dahlia stalks grow to this size-neither had RB.  He said this was his best year ever growing dahlias-and he has been growing them 20 years.  He puts his tubers in the ground in a sheltered spot in late June. All he grows in this plot of land is dahlias-mostly the very tall plants with dinnerplate size flowers.  In August they are good; in September they are spectacular.  Not having had a really hard frost even yet, he had flowers all of October.  And plants every bit of 8 feet tall.  I cannot imagine what a job it will be digging the tubers this year.  He cuts the stems very tall, and leaves them for a week or so before digging.  The flowers on these giant dahlias were similarly overscaled.  These stalks speak to his skill as a gardener, and how a plant can more than thrive given a favorable season and great culture.  Very impressive, RB!

Twig Time

Our leaves are finally beginning to turn color, and drop. Or drop without having turned color at all, as the case may be.  The grape leaves on the fence were beautiful this morning, with the sunlight coming through.  Once the leaves have dropped, our landscape is much about the twigs, the trunks, the branches and sticks.  This spot will soon be a plane of brown woody vines.    

These hackberry tree branches are fairly representative of what there is to see here in late fall.  This pot has lots and lots of branches in it, but the effect is delicate and subtle.  The color of these branches is what I call winter drab.   But not all branches are created equal. 

Our shipment of fresh cut twigs arrived yesterday.  These are branches of a different sort.  The stems have great color, and form.     The mainstay of our winter container plantings involve natural branches.  Lucky for us, there is a farm that grows shrubs with the specific purpose of harvesting branches.  A twig farm.  Beautiful branches are on my short list of plants I would be happy to farm.  This bale of red bud pussy willow still sports the last of its leaves.  This means we have to do a little stripping.  Who knows the mechanism, but if a branch is cut, it will take lots more time for the leaves to fall.

 I would grow all manner of Salix-most certainly.  Prairie willow.  Japanese fan willow.  Curly willow.  Flame willow. Black willow.  Pussy willow.  I love the willows.  The markedly fasciated fan willow is particularly beautiful.  I would grow a whole host of stoloniferous dogwood-there are lots of beautiful varieties. Cornus sericea Cardinal” is a particularly bright red form of the species dogwood.

Flame willow branches are a particularly beautiful and vibrant shade of orange.  The shrub likes regular moisture, and full sun; it can grow to 20′ tall.  Like most shrubby willows, their shape and leaves are not their long suit.  But the winter color of their branches is spectacular. 

Red bud pussy willow is aptly named.  Branches of this willow will frequently root if stuck in soil in the fall.  This makes these branches a great choice for a fall, winter-and an early spring container planting.  This is one of the few twigs that we purchase both in the fall, and in the spring.  

Fresh cut yellow twig dogwood provides lots of color in the late fall and winter.  The branches are amazingly easy to bend and twist into shape you choose.  The branches make great wreaths; they can easily be formed into topiary shapes.  They retain their color remarkably well, as they dry.

Cardinal red twig is much more vibrant in color than the species.  The best color on any dogwood branch is the current season’s growth.  Stems that mature take on a brown cast as they age.  This brilliant color looks great at the holidays, and throughout our long winter. 

Grapes are a woody vine with long lax branches that can be shaped over forms.  We have had on occasion grapevine wreaths, spheres, picture frames and nests-but these deer are the most elegant expression of weaving and sculpting with grapevine I have ever seen.  The forms are heavy steel, and each vine is laid in parallel to its neighbor, and then woven into the whole figure.  They look great paired with all of the twigs. The people who create these sculptures-artists, each and every one.  They weld their frames, and weave the grapevine in a very individual way.  This doe and fawn pair is distinctly the creation and look of the person who made them.  My next pair will have a different look.

The standing Buck is particularly handsome.  Each antler has a steel pin that slides into a steel cylinder embedded behind the ears.  The Buck stands almost 7 feet tall.  This is my favorite species of deer for the garden! 

I can think of lots of places for the deer.  As for the fresh cut twigs-what would you do with them?

Heart Felt

Though I have landscape projects still underway, a lot of my attention is focused on the shop.  Our yearly holiday open house is but one week away.  Why early November?  We stock materials for winter and holiday pots-that season is but one breath away.  We have clients planning parties, or having company for the holidays.  We like to say thank you to each and every person that shops the season long with us-thus our holiday open house.  We also like to give the gift of time.  Time to look over, plan, and decide.  We open up for the holidays, early.    

This year’s holiday represents shopping Rob and I did in January of 2011.  I like that timing; the season is still fresh in my mind.  In no way am I able to anticipate what anyone will like almost a year in advance, so I concentrate on what strikes me as appealing and fresh.  I was drawn to what I will call heart felt.  Homespun.  Natural materials.  Warm.  Friendly.  Woolly.  This was easy, given our relationship with Jenny.   

Jenny monitors our website. She is the point person for people from far away that wish to buy from us.  She handles sales in the store, every day, day to day.  Not incidentally, she is a graphic designer with considerable talent.  She has a big love for hats; her winter headgear is always sensational.  The felt holiday birds with their big winter hats struck a chord with us-we had to have the JennyBirds.   

Given that we see Jenny every day of the cold months in big tall hats, a committment to these felted birds was easy.The felted hand stitched birds were a starting point.  We were able to find other materials that had that homespun look. Rob has followed up with great natural materials from the fields he frequents with Larry. Sooner or later a point of view emerges. This is not to say we don’t represent other points of view-not everyone responds to that cottage look.  No matter whether the holiday decor is informal or formal, it in some way will represent a feeling from the garden.    

This felt tree skirt with overlapping flowers and button closures enchanted me.  A small company in New York hand makes these skirts.  They are as elegant as elegant can be-but still warm.  The felt is thick; the design is beautiful. 

Our felt snow people sit on a disc of wood.  I bought lots of them, in the interest of representing the idea of community.  There is an element of just plain fun here.   

Holiday picks of cotton bolls-I bought lots.  Cotton, wool, felt-these materials will compliment our natural twigs and greens. A holiday making reference to the garden-great. 

This handmade felt mushroom is very small, but very special.  Small and special-this describes my idea of the strength of my shop. Good gardeners notice the little things.  So do we.    

I was willing to commit to a few felt sheep, but Rob felt we needed a flock.  OK, we did a flock.  The big idea here-take an idea, and run as fast as you can with it.  This applies to landscapes, gardens, container plantings, garden ornament-and the holidays.  

This felt owl-handmade.  Charming.  It would make a very special ornament for a good friend.  Or a very special bow on a package.  Very special-this we like.   

These felt Santa Claus-we passed them up, last January.  In February, Rob let me know he had to have them.  OK, Rob.  I have no problem representing what he cannot bear to leave behind.  Better yet, I like to explain the process by which we interpret the holiday season.  Stop in-we are all available.  As for your holidays-what will you do?