Louis Raymond experiments in his own gardens like

a mad scientist, searching out plants that most people have

never seen before & figuring out how to make them perform.- The Boston Globe

…Louis Raymond ensures that trees can grow in Brooklyn…

or just about any other place where concrete consumes

the dirt and skyscrapers shield the sunshine.- USA Today

 
 

NEW Trips to Take!

Myrtle's easy when the conditions are right.

 
 
 
 

NEW Plants to Try!

Louis tries to capture the exact words to describe the fleeting but deep pleasures to be found in these Summer-into-Autumn incredibles.

 
 
 
 

New Gardening to Do!

Allergic to bees? You can still have an exciting garden, full of flowers and color and wildlife.

 
 
 
 

Plant Profiles

The Best Spring Ever: Boyd's Pendulous Willow in Bud

Dozens of willows are especially garden-worthy because they welcome radical annual pruning in Spring. This not only maintains their sizes at a fraction of the free-range dimensions, but also stimulates growth of lengthy wand-like stems that display their pussies and (sometimes) colorful bark to best advantage.

 

Willows that are dwarf and and prostrate—as below, 'Boyd's Pendulous'—receive almost the opposite care. They don't grow quickly enough to need pruning just for size control. Worse, if they were massacred each Spring, the resultant wands would be likely to project upward and outward, ruining their gnarly "old soul" looks and close-to-the-rocks habits.   

 

Salix repens Boyds Pendulous stems over the trough edge 032916 cropped 640

 

Stems of Salix repens 'Boyd's Pendulous' are strikingly slender and flexible, and soon cascade if given opportunity. I planted mine at the corner of one of my tall troughs partly to elevate the shrub above the large-scale melee that is the norm for my ground-level plantings. Being sequestered at an elevation also lets the stems dangle freely as they grow. Here, young stems are still, as it were, making a break for it by growing up and over the lip of the trough and, then, out into what is, for a creature this size, the limitless free space at eighteen inches above ground. 

 

With my fingertips for scale, you can see that the stems are spaghetti-thin. After they've "soared" six inches or so, they will be heavy enough to begin drooping. The one between my fingers is about a foot long, so it is already quite pendulous.

 

Salix repens Boyds Pendulous fingers 032916 640

 

The pussies are just starting to emerge. They are a fraction the size of those of the giant pussy willow, and much much later to emerge. Pussies of Salix chaenomeloides begin to show in February even in a severe Winter. As of last week, they were fully mature. Pussies of 'Boyd's Pendulous' are only now extending outward from their protective scales, and won't mature for weeks.

 

The remarkable fuzziness of pussies is thought to assist in heat retention, just like animal fur, so that the apetalous flowers can still attract pollinators by way of plentiful nectar. With more heat—at least in comparison to what could be serious chill in the surrounding air—the nectar is somewhat warmed and, therefore, more sippable.

 

The larger the pussy, the greater its internal volume that can be sheltered by its "fur" and, so, behave as a little heat sink. Pussies of 'Boyd's Pendulous' are truly tiny, and their ability to trap and store heat is much less. No wonder that the giant pussies of S. chaenomeloides can begin emerging even in the depths of Winter, whereas these of 'Boyd's Pendulous' await the true mildness of Spring itself.

 

Salix repens Boyds Pendulous fingers 032916 closer 640

 

When pussies emerge, they point largely in the direction of their stem's tip. On stems of willows that are more-or-less erect, pussies face upward and outward, and continue to do so throughout their lifespan. As in the picture above, pussies on stems of prostrate and cascading willows also follow the direction of the stems, at least at first; if the stem is pointing down or sideways, so are the young pussies.

 

But as the pussies on these prostrate or cascading stems mature, they usually stop following the directions of their stems. Instead, they point upward and, often, with a strikingly uniform verticality. When full elongated, the pussies are also in full bloom throughout their length; a dwarf or cascading willow in full flower looks as if it has been decorated with thick candles that had been carefully placed upright.

 

This verticality brings a practical benefit to the willow, which, of course, doesn't have any inherent sense of aesthetics. When the stems grow close to the ground, they become more and more densely tangled as new stems and additional side branches creep along amid the rest. Pussies that don't point upward like periscopes might never esscape the tangle, so pollinators would be less likely to reach them. The result is that they would be less likely to produce as much fertile seed as the vertical pussies. It's likely, then, that there's a strong selective pressure for prostrate willows to form vertical pussies. 

 

Here are other possibillities. When such flatter-growing willows are young, they have comparatively few branches, and there's plenty of space between them. Does each pussy stay oriented to the direction of its stem? There would be enough room. As the branching becomes denser with age, there is less and less space between the stems themselves, let alone additional space for the annual crop of pussies. Would the proportion of pussies that verticalize increase with increasing congestion of the willow's canopy? In other words, does the orientational proclivity of a given pussy change with the age of the willow? Or the increasing density of its branches regardless of age? Or is orientation determined more locally, as pussies somehow become aware of increasing crowding of branches or other pussies in the more-or-less horizontal plane of the willow's growth, and then "decide" to grow vertically. In other words, do the pussies behave individually, as if they have a sense of touch, or is their pattern of verticalization (or not) controlled en masse by the shrub overall?

 

I'll follow this young Salix repens 'Boyd's Pendulous' as its pussies mature. We'll see if they verticalize at all—and whether this particular individual is male or female. Willows are dioecious, so all the flowers of all the pussies of any given plant are either male or female. The male flowers are considered to be showier because their display of pollen makes the mature pussies bulkier. 

 

I also grow Salix repens var. argentea. Its leaves are fuzzy and, so, seem quite silvery, hence the 'argentea' varietal name: Argentum is the Latin word for silver. It is shrubby but becomes two or three feet high: it isn't prostrate at all. Its many stems sprawl outward from the center, but all curve upward at their tips. Do its pussies adopt the standard orientation: outward and upward toward the stems' tips? 

 

There's much to watch as these two forms of Salix repens grow, both in the weeks to come and the years still to follow. In a subseqent post, I'll include a full "Here's how to grow it" text box.

 

 

Here's how to grow giant pussy willow, Salix chaenomeloides. It is large and fast growing and, so, benefits from the radical annual pruning that is not advisable for willows, such as Salix repens, that are small or prostrate or both.

 
 
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