This afternoon I was cutting back the jungle our front garden has become, after a summer where gardening was often impossible. I had my chainsaw on the go, chopping down dozens of five-year-old hawthorn seedlings that had colonised the Virginia rose hedge that runs along our drive. I’d been doing this for about half an hour and my back was starting to play up, as the seedlings had to be cut-off very close to the ground and that’s hard work, if you don’t want to catch the chain on the ground – which almost instantly blunts it. Anyhow, I straightened up and looked towards the north-east, where clouds from off the Wash were starting to look a bit threatening, when I could hardly believe my eyes. The willows, which look very spectacular with their bright orange bark at this time of year, were side-lit by the low February sun and the result – well judge for yourselves. I don’t think even Piccadilly Circus at midnight looks half so bright. We planted the trees from cuttings I nicked from a botanic garden (naughty me) thirty years ago. The willow is a garden variety of the native (I think) white willow, Salix alba, var. Kermesina.
If you do decide to get one, bear in mind they like it very wet and grow unbelievably fast and big. It’s not a tree for small gardens, unless kept ruthlessly cut-back. But if you can grow it, do, as it’s well worth it. An added bonus, if you grow them near water, are flocks of long-tailed tits – gorgeous little birds who make an enchanting chattering sound and have lovely delicate pink undersides. They’ve become a permanent feature of our garden, I’m delighted to say.