by Beth Chatto
‘How often do you prune your willows?’ you may ask.
We have to consider the vigor of different varieties and also, of course, the amount of time we have to spare. We do not always do what is ideal.
If you can manage it, I think it is probably best to prune every year in February, removing about half the shoots, leaving the youngest, brightest looking stems. Some we prune every two years, others we leave longer, but not too long.
I once left [the rosemary willow] Salix elaeagnos ""SAY-lix el-ee-ag-nus"(rosmarinifolia "rose-mah-ren-uh-FOE-lee-uh") for several years. With long, fluttering, grey leaves, white-backed on purple stems, they made superb specimens. I was loath to touch them but eventually found we had to restrain them from smothering other good things. Faced with the huge framework in winter how hard dare I cut?
Gingerly I went round, saw in hand, cutting off vast pieces but leaving, to my mind, an acceptable framework. Along came a young member of staff who, not before consultation, confidently took the saw and slaughtered my framework almost to the ground.
I knew, in theory, he was right, but I just hadn’t the courage. Would it be too great a shock to the system?
Well, they were slow to start, but by the end of the season, they looked magnificent.
— Beth Chatto, garden writer and gardener, Beth Chatto's Garden Notebook, January