Spring Willow Struts Its Stuff
As spring approaches and the sun grows stronger, the lowly ditch willow starts to transform. It really is an amazing plant! All summer it is an unremarkable green shrub, found in our wet ditches, and recognized by few. After the leaves fall off and winter progresses, Willow starts to strut its stuff! It starts to change its colour. The growing tips become deep reds and burgundies, and further down the stems it’s not unusual to see yellows and oranges and bright green. There are almost 400 different kinds of willows, representing an impressive range of early spring colours! Spring gathering of colourful Willow on a nice sunny day is rewarding unto itself. Not only is each rod colourful, it is also a very flexible, yet strong plant material ideally suited to basket making.
The other amazing thing that sets Willow apart from other common shrubs is the ability in spring to sport fuzzy little flower buds often referred to as pussy willows or catkins. These pussy willows are one of the earliest signs of spring. It has always been a spring ritual for me to go outside and clip the first pussy willows of the new season. Now when I see pussy willows, I know that my time to use fresh Willow in baskets is limited. In fact there have been times that pussy willows have sprouted, after I have woven the Willow rod into a basket.
The arrival of pussy willows signals the end of my focus on making winter baskets. It means it is time for me to stop making ribbed baskets, and to start thinking about the huge job of gathering enough spring bark to last me for the next year.