why we plant certain plants in our garden…like pussy willows

Giant Pussy Willow

Why do we plant certain things in our garden if we are planting our gardens ourselves?

Among other things, we plant things which evoke memories. For me one of those plants are Pussy Willows.

I have planted two pussy willow cultivars in my garden: Giant Pussy Willow and Black Pussy Willow. Pussy Willows can grow full sun to part shade and their natural habitat I have read is river banks and sand bars. I know they also do well near creeks and ponds. I never plant anything that is a willow near wells, public sewer pipes, water pipes, septic systems etc.  Their roots can be a problem if you choose the wrong location. The pussy willow is native to the colder parts of Japan, Korea and China.

Giant Pussy Willow or Salix chaenomeloides is upright and arches gracefully.  It needs quite a bit of space because it can grow 12′ to 20′.  I have mine on the edge of my woods and it thrives, but I do prune it about 2 to  3 times a year. These are the pussy willows who get the biggest catkins and they start a fuzzy gray-pink, and get lighter as they open.

My other pussy willow is a Black Pussy Willow or Salix gracilistyla ‘Melanostachys’. It grows more shrub like, but you must stay on top of pruning because it can also be a monster.  I prune it to keep it an even round shape.  It anchors a large perennial bed. The catkins are smaller and black. Like it’s giant cousin, it has lovely green leaves during the growing season.  One detractor? The Japanese beetle loves the black pussy willow in particular so I hit it with Neem oil when they are out.

I also have a weeping willow and a curly willow (“Peking Willow”) as well.  They are both planted in areas which were prone to being very wet.  They are, as is the case with the pussy willows, planted away from wells, septic, pipes, etc. And they are a wonderfully natural way to help balance out areas on your property that get too wet or hold water. The Curly Willow can also survive periods of drought nicely.  The weeping willow does not like periods of drought.

Black Pussy Willow

As a gardener in my gardening group writes:

1. They like to grow in damp soil & are well suited for a rain garden. 
2. Hummingbirds like to use the fuzzy catkin material in their nests. 
3. Since they bloom in early March, they provide a valuable early source of nectar for pollinators. 
4. It is a host plant for Viceroy butterflies (Monarch mimic) & several other butterfly species as well.
5. To use the branches indoors, do not put them in water (I always did) unless you are trying to root them. Without water they will dry and the catkins will remain silvery, and leaves will not sprout.

 

Pussy Willows have been a favorite of mine since I was a toddler as per my mother.  And I will admit I have early, early memories of the flower and plant man Mr. Cullinan coming into the city with boughs of Pussy Willows for sale.

Mr. Cullinan came (I think) from the Kennett Square area and he used to come to his customers in a VW Van. I hope I am spelling his name right. He would stop and open his van and it was loaded with seasonal flowers every season.  First pussy willows at the end of winter. Then lilacs and peonies to welcome spring.  All in big florist buckets soaking in water until we bought them inside. And all plants I have in my garden as a grown up.

Related image

I have always loved flowers and gardening, and Mr. Cullinan always meant wonderful plants and flowers. I just loved the big fuzzy, velvety soft catkins of the pussy willows he sold us.  I would put them up to my cheek to feel the softness.

The simplicity of Mr. Cullinan coming around selling flowers is an era of days gone by.  Much like the truck farmers full of in-season fruits and vegetables who would make the rounds, and the milkman.

(Now to digress for a second, Chester County folks do have access to an old fashioned milkman again thanks to the folks at Doorstep Dairy.)

Back to pussy willows.

You will see them around the time of Chinese New Year. Pussy willows are a favorite flower for this time of year and you will see stalks decorated with gold and red ornaments/red packets, colors which signify prosperity and happiness. In the Chinese tradition, this represents the coming of prosperity.

In other cultures pussy willows play a role as well. Ukrainian and Russian Orthodox;  Polish, Czech, Slovak, Bavarian, and Austrian Roman Catholics; Finnish and Baltic Lutherans and Orthodox; and various other Eastern European peoples carry pussy willows on Palm Sunday instead of palm branches. Pussy willows also plays a prominent role in Polish Dyngus Day (Easter Monday).

As I write this, snowflakes swirl with howling, somewhat ferocious winds.  The winds are bending my pussy willows back and forth.  March has arrived like a lion.

Thanks for stopping by.