In late winter, I’m like an expectant father, pacing around my gardens looking for any signs of spring. Usually, by now, I’d be seeing some early bulb foliage poking through the soil or some green leaves unfurling in the perennial border. But this year it’s different. Deep snow still blankets the landscape. Winter has been relentless with snowstorms every few days adding new layers of fresh snow on top of drifts that are already chest high. All my garden beds are deeply buried, so unless the weather warms up quickly, we probably won’t be seeing our early bloomers such as hellebore, crocus or snowdrops until April or May. But, this weekend, I finally found some hope. In the back of the border, buried in 4 feet of snow, is a very large pussy willow shrub I planted several years ago. And, on the very top branches, the pussy willow catkins are beginning to peek out. It’s not much, but after one of the bleakest winters on record, it improved my spirits tremendously.
Surprisingly, you don’t read much about pussy willows anymore and the plants themselves can be difficult to find either via mail order or at the nursery. Certainly it doesn’t have large or fragrant flowers or interesting foliage, but in the early spring it earns its place in any landscape. It’s a blue collar shrub that works hard, has few pests, and requires only an annual pruning to keep it in bounds (un-pruned this shrub can grow 15 to 20 feet tall). Plus, you can cut the pussy willow branches and use them in fresh or dried arrangements. Pussy willows are also available in weeping forms or with pink or black catkins.
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