Pussywillow

The ground along the back border of the garden is soggy, and often swampy. Just a few feet further behind the property line cattails and various other undesirables grow, and between brush and brambles and the likelihood of man eating beasts, only deer dare to enter this unruly, damp jungle. Here, the pussy willow thrives.Pussy willow in mid February

This should be enough said, but there’s more. A few decades ago, or nearly so, I was enthused by a photograph of a variegated leaf pussywillow in a magazine or catalog so that I purchased one found in  the garden center. This was, I figured, unlike the weedy, common pussywillow. With finer foliage than the drab green of the typical pussywillow, I supposed that it must also be more refined in its habit. Certainly, plants with variegated foliage grow slower than their green leafed counterparts due to less chlorophyll, and undoubtedly pussywillow would be vastly improved with somewhat slower growth.Pussy willow catkins in mid-March

Alas, it was not to be! Today, the variegated pussywillow sprawls to cover a space twenty feet wide. It’s irregular habit is unsuited to any of the more civilized parts of the garden, but here, at the edge of the swamp the pussywillow is most appropriate. Here, it can scramble without a care. In competition with the most aggressive neighbors the pussywillow seems an indestructible force.Variegated pussy willow

The leaves are variegated, but the branching is not dense enough that the foliage is shown off to great effect, and in swampy ground I seldom travel back far enough to appreciate the variegation at all. The prominent feature of all pussywillows, of course, is the furry catkins that develop in late winter to reach their peak in late February in my garden. On the variegated pussywillow the catkins are longer and narrower than on the more common shrub, but still these are reason enough to grow this unruly plant so long as it is placed in an appropriate location.

Can I recommend the pussywillow? Yes, so long as the planting spot is similarly well suited as the damp, otherwise useless area where this one is planted. It must be given plenty of space, but with adequate moisture it requires nothing more. Then, you are free to muck about in your rubber boots to cut a few branches to bring indoors for the winter months.

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2 thoughts on “Pussywillow

  1. Thanks for reminding us that pussy willows are lovely for such a tiny increment of time and then explode with huge vegetative growth. Many years ago I planted one in a tiny yard in Arlington, Va (I also still cringe when I recall the huge, lovely azalea i trimmed into a giant meatball in that yard). I now have a marshy area appropriate for them and will look for the varieagated variety and also been intrigued by the black catkin type.

    • I don’t always find the right spot for a plant, but it’s fortunate that the pussywillow is perfectly suited to this wet area. There is no other plant that would work as well, and I prefer having the pussywillow rather than nothing at all.

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