There may not be a whole lot in flower in the garden in winter, but at Royal Horticultural Society Garden Hyde Hall in Essex I can guarantee you will see some mighty big blooms. Some of the brightest colour in the garden in winter comes from the stems of pollarded willows. If left unpruned, willows grow into rather large trees, but by pollarding or cutting back to the main stem every year we keep them much shorter. The technique comes from growing long flexible stems of willow for basket weaving. While we don’t weave baskets at Hyde Hall we carry on the practice of pollarding our willows for stunning winter colour. A pollarded or coppiced willow will put on more than 5 feet of growth every year and this fresh growth on the best cultivars is brightly coloured usually in shades of red and yellow. If we miss even one year of pruning, we lose the brilliant colour and the willow starts to grow back into a tall tree.
The stems of Salix alba cultivars tend to glow the brightest but we take them one step further. Before Christmas the team and I carefully bundle the stems of the pollarded willows growing through Clover Hill. This isn’t part of some complex and technical horticultural practice, but is purely artistic in its aim. We bend and tie the stems together into in large loops and curves creating abstract flower shapes; some up to 8 feet high. Our hope is that these massive flowers help bring a bit of summer bloom to a cold and wet winters day.
Like all flowers these ones don’t last forever and our blooms finish by April. Just as the willow starts to show sign of that fresh green growth that means spring is just around the corner we cut all of the current year’s growth back hard. This may look drastic, but it’s not long before the willow puts on several feet of growth ready for next year.
Andrew Hellman is a horticulturist at RHS Garden Hyde Hall in Essex. As well as sculpting willow on Clover Hill, he and his team maintain the Australian/New Zealand Garden, container displays and the newly created Cottage Garden. You can catch the sculpted willow flowers at Hyde Hall until April but there is something stunning to see all year round at Hyde Hall.
For more about RHS Garden Hyde Hall in Essex, please view the website below;
Website address: www.rhs.org.uk/Gardens/Hyde-Hall