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.

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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.


a garden for all seasons


Since I began this particular garden, as part of the creation process what I have had as one of my goals is simple: to create a four-sided, four-season garden. I want to be able to look at a garden from every window, and I want a garden that has interest four seasons of the year.

Basically, creating a garden is a layering process, as well as trial and error. From daffodils in spring, to lush summer color, to the panorama of fall, and the garden in winter, it is about layering. There is nothing instant about a good garden. It takes years, and constantly evolves as you figure out what works, what doesn’t, what you like, what you don’t like.

I am getting to the point where I am four seasons. I research what I am looking to achieve and scope out the plants. The colors I choose are complimentary for the most part, and I will group and mass plantings for a more uniform and flowing effect.


This garden was in part inspired by the bones of the garden of the former owner of our home, the garden of my childhood, and gardens I have created for myself and others over the years.

The first garden I remember was the garden my father created in the walled in back yard of our then house in the Society Hill section of Philadelphia. I remember him planning it, and he laid out the curves of the brick patio and the flower beds with a string and a compass. It was like a secret garden come to life and he planted trees, shrubs, a John F. Kennedy white rose, annuals and perennials.

There was a shady side garden, and then the main part of the garden was quite sunny. The general idea of the garden my father planted still exists in parts today. I recently stumbled upon a realtor listing for our first home. It was kind of weird to look at the listing photos and see the house inside and out after all of these years, but it was also marvelous to see how these people loved the house over the years. Definitely a far cry from the home my parents sold in August, 1975, it still had the basic bones of my father’s original garden. I am guessing they really aren’t gardening folk because while the trees are still there, far less in the way of flowers and shrubs exist in that garden today. And it looks like an addition swallowed a good bit of the side yard and piazza. But it stopped being our garden decades ago.20140722-135414-50054333.jpg

The garden I remember will always be in my memory. And that garden of my early childhood fostered my love of gardening as an adult. As a child I helped my father plant that garden with his father. I know most kids don’t like to garden as it equals work, but I did. And watching what you plant grow and even bloom is still almost indescribably cool.

People have happy places in their life where they like to go. One of those places to me is my garden. My garden today has bits and pieces of every garden I have ever had or helped create. It also has where my creative side has taken me, and will continue to grow.

I learn from reading and talking to horticulturists and plants people, and also looking at the gardens of others for inspiration. Taunton’s Fine Gardening is one of my favorite resources. The magazine and the website are very helpful, as well as contain many beautiful things to look at.

I also found a web article on four season garden planning recently I found helpful. It is on a website called Gardening Know How. I do have quite a collection of gardening books I refer to, and among them are a few from Rodale which are basic and helpful. As a matter of fact, Rodale Institute has a pretty cool website. I also love the books written by garden writer Suzy Bales. She also has many gardening articles still available on Huffington Post . She also used to have a website.

As of this summer, my garden has become four-sided. As I keep planting it I strive now to make it four-season. I want to be able to look at something no matter what the season. Even the sparseness of winter should be beautiful.

What are your plans for your garden? What inspires you in your garden? Tell me in a comment!

Thanks for stopping by today. I am off to find more Caladryl Clear to put on the side of my arm to combat the reaction I am having to whatever stung me in the garden yesterday.