Thursday, 3 April 2014

Willow and dark sarcasm

Updated 7th April 2014 with additional species information
Sorry, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Alyson Hannigan fans, not this Willow, I'm afraid. And very specific apologies to Captain Sundial, who is still carrying a torch after all these years.

Nope, this blogpost is about Salix and my first tentative steps at planting up our garden. The first watch words in Orcadian gardening are 'shelter belt', to provide conditions for other plants to grow. In some ways, this is like choosing a sacrificial lamb (o-oh, veering Buffy-wards again!) to take the brunt of the prevailing winds and the most obvious candidate is Willow. Opinion is divided upon whether it is the best provider of shelter, but it's certainly the cheapest to source and easiest to plant.

Following my trip to Orkney ZeroWaste's Spring Fair and Plant Sale last month, I was the proud owner of 160 cuttings of what I think is Grey Willow, Salix cinerea, one of the native Orkney willows. (7th April 2014. See note below for further clarification, Thanks again Jenny!

Here's one of several bundles, keen to bud
But first there was the small matter of preparing the ground. In an ideal world, the whole half acre site would be weed and stone free. However, very little of that has yet occurred and the budding bundles of potential tree-ness won't wait forever.

So, putting all perfectionist and pedantic thoughts to one side, I roughly cleared a swathe 23m long and 0.5m wide. This was to make room for the first double row of planting, beginning in the bottom southern corner of the garden and progressing along the south-westerly boundary.

When I say 'roughly cleared', I meant removing the Docks. The Willow will have to take its chances with the dandelions, buttercups, various grasses, thistles and heaven knows what else. Well, they are native trees, so they must have got the hang of coping with this sort of stuff, you'd think?

What's up, Dock?

I do wonder if these have a use...
I decided to leave a significant gap between the first row and the boundary fence, so as to leave room for maintenance and restrict farm animals from grazing, hence the row was marked out 1.5m from the fence.
Doesn't look very promising, eh?

The first bundle is placed in position ready to be planted
The actual planting was reasonably easy, the instructions I was given were carried out to the letter...

This is my kind of gardening!

OK, Pink Floyd fans, think of it as another stick in the wall.
And just when you were wondering where the 'dark sarcasm' came in!

The cuttings went in at about 0.5m intervals and then the second row was planted 0.5m inboard of that, but offset by 0.25m.

Yeah, I know it's not straight. Jeez, lighten up!
On cue, as I hammered in the eighty-oddth stick, although not forecast, it began to rain. At least it saved me from pondering whether to water in the cuttings, or not.

The next step is to repeat the above, but along the south-easterly boundary, at which point I will have run out of cuttings. No worries, there's a plan...

Note: The cuttings I got at ZeroWaste were not native willows - the bundles contained mostly some of the biomass willows that were grown by Orkney College (fast growing Salix viminalis hybrids, long narrow leaved) plus maybe a few of the Salix hookeriana (which is a North American willow with wider silvery leaves). We wait with bated breath for growth and leafage, so that we can attempt to decipher the Salix code.


Martin said...

Good luck to they their Willow saplings and budlings, I would suggest converting the wonderful weeds into the start of a colonise-able compost heap for the worms.. assuming the weeds don't get blown away first.

Imperfect and Tense said...

I'm always cautious about perennial weeds and compost heaps, as I don't want to create problems down the line. But, yeah, never mind the weeds blowing away, what about the compost bin/frame? I guess that will be another blog topic for a future post :o)

Tales of a Bank Vole said...

Oh dear - soon you will be changing your names to Bill and Josella - Don't say I didn't warn you!

Imperfect and Tense said...

Funny you should say that, our horticultural and landscaping skills have been compared to the blind leading the blind.

Martin said...

Hence the word Heap, not Bin.. Once you have a large garden a bin isn't sufficient and the heap forms its own sides unless you try to constrain it with wood, piles of magazines, or earth walls.

Now there is an idea. Digging the pond could yield earth for (un?)earthly wind-break walls..

Imperfect and Tense said...

With the constant wind, keeping heat in a heap will be difficult. Some kind of retaining wall will be necessary, we think.

biobabbler said...

=) Looks like some fine industry--kudos. I'm sure the bend of the row is following a small creek you imagined (intuited?) wending through the area.

Funny to read the names of your weeds & have you (?) imply they are native (if we can pretend the Salix is native, then they'd be familiar w/each other), 'cause my brain saw the plant names and said DING DING DING! NON-NATIVE! KILL! KILL! KILL! I'm afraid my stint with the National Park Service rendered me a non-native plant killing machine, and that training (starting when I was 22?) is deeply ingrained in my brain, like the tap root of some evil weed.

I'd be super interested in what other tree species used to live up there. I remember a map of your little island (well, the BIG one) w/historic tree cover, and it was AMAZING. Forests covered SO much of that place, I'd love to learn what it used to look like, what species were there, etc. It'd be an amazing experiment. If you restore it, who will come?

biobabbler said...

btw, I will not lie, I was alarmed that you WERE going to blog about the other Willow. Phew!

Imperfect and Tense said...

As if I would be such a slave to my hormones. Well, at least not on this occasion!

Imperfect and Tense said...

I have somewhat blotted my 'native species' copy book with the misinterpreting of the Willow spp. However, the other trees purchased for the garden are Elder, Aspen, Swedish Whitebeam, Rowan, Hawthorn and Downy Birch. We also intend to plant some non-native hedging that flourishes in this harsh climate, but which wildlife finds useful: Rosa rugosa, a Hebe species and a Fuschia species.

Interestingly, a debate kicked off on Facebook today, regarding native/non-native wildlfowers in Orkney. In collaboration with Kew Gardens, the BBC (public broadcaster in the UK) are giving away packets of wildlflower seed to promote food and habitat for insects. The small packets contain enough seed to cover about two square metres. The packs are also tailored for region, with separate for each country of the UK. However, Orkney has a very specific biota, with some slight twists upon the British mainland varieties. Not separate species, but very subtle differences. So the plant guys and gals are very exercised about anyone importing Scottish varieties of wildlflower!