Friday, December 06, 2013

Getting to know the willow

click photo to enlarge
It wasn't until I had willow trees growing in and adjoining my garden that I really got to know them. One of the first expansions of my knowledge of Salix alba came about when I looked out of my bedroom window one morning and saw that overnight winds had brought down a huge branch. It was flattening a section of ten feet high conifer hedge, had bent a bay tree down to the ground, crushed a shrub border and gouged the lawn. It took four of us most of the day to cut it up with a chainsaw and remove it. Prior to that event I had heard this tree called "crack" willow: now I understood why it had been given the name. The countless small leaves had acted like a sail in the wind that had forced the limb from the tree where it forked. Evidence of the rending crack could be seen on its trunk.

But, the fact is, the willow tree has many endearing habits and I like it. In winter its slender new branches glow reddish-orange in the yellow-tinged light. In March it is one of the earliest trees to come into leaf, a real sign that spring is on the way. The sight of the branches of a willow swaying in the summer breeze, like tresses of long hair, is an arboreal phenomenon that is hard to beat. Birds, large and small love willow trees for the nest sites it offers and the insects that abound in it. As a garden screen the willow tree has few deciduous equals because it carries its leaves for such a long period of time. However, that advantage brings with it some of the tree's disadvantages. It loses leaf through most months of the year so if a tidy garden is your idea of a good garden then it isn't the tree for you. Moreover, the leaf loss is accompanied by long, slender, whippy twigs so composting the gathered leaves becomes more difficult. And then there is that late leaf drop in autumn (or rather early winter). A couple of weeks after you've cleared up most of the deciduous leaves from lawns and flower beds in late November the willow decides its time to shed its leaves too. This is usually in early December. In fact, after completing this blog post collecting up the carpet of willow leaves brought down by yesterday's high winds is my next job!

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Sony RX100
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 17.8mm (48mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f5
Shutter Speed: 1/100 sec
Exposure Compensation: 0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On