Stem ginger

The pollard, the stooling and  the time of the coppice are nearly here.  Cold February days are the viewing time for low light levels playing on coloured stems of last year’s growth.

Amongst the best are the willows which can be kept small and lively by the annual chop, right back to base.  This makes them a very good choice as a fake tree for the diminutive garden plot.  ( A subject which I am going to write a post on soon.)    Here is a willow Salix alba ‘Britzensis” bunked up with Sarccoccoa humilis, with a headboard of yew behind.  The gingery whiskery stems have to be cut every year to promote the eye-searing redhead colour.

A  plantsman’s trick is the use of the dark back-drop to excite the eye.  An ocular equivalent of inducing drooling, pavlovian-style. See how well this works with the yew hedge as a solid base  with an arch of  Sorbus aria training the eye on itself and backdrop with the statute.  This juxtapostion, more tasty than a green fruit pastille is a scene from the gardens at Kiftsgate.

Anyway, this stooling malarchy – should you cut high or low?  The pollard is done at a height to get above the chin reach of the browsing cattle.  The willows round our town lake get a crude regular chop  in this manner.  The other way to go about this, is to cut right back into the base of the plant.  This is called coppicing and the action makes a stool at ground level which kick-starts vigorous regrowth.  Woodland managed by these means will keep the trees young and alive for hundreds of years.

From the gardener’s  eye view, such treatment of stems will give intense winter colour.  I am not going to reel out a long shopping list.  Anyone with half a vegetation-savvy gaze will have noticed jewelled stems of dogwoods on roundabouts or in carparks.  But we can do even better than this.  Be on the lookout for the Salix alba var. vitellina “Yelverton”  for yellow and Salix daphnoides, for a rich plum black with an overlay of grape-like bloom.


  1. Roger Brook says:

    What a stunning effect you get with those massed salix, so much better than my single plants not always with the appropriate background.
    Isn’t the fragrance of the sarcococca powerful at the moment-even in the wind!

  2. Mark and Gaz says:

    Two nice alternatives to dogwoods there!

  3. Salix and cornus are wonderful for giving winter colour, we have both in the garden here. The salix is pollarded so we can see it from the house and the red stemmed cornus down the drive, which is inter planted with silver birch, gets coppiced next month. Stunning effects can be created for the winter, no excuse for a dull garden in Dec/Jan/Feb!!

  4. malc mollart says:

    Great pics of coloured stems – they provide real impact at this time of year.

  5. Holleygarden says:

    That last pic is beautiful – red, orange, yellow. So many colors. I bet just looking at them warms up the winter’s day.

  6. Donna says:

    Good post on trimming and shaping. I like the massed willow. I did not know the height of pollarding was based on the height to get above the chin reach of the browsing cattle. Good to know.

  7. Sue Doherty says:

    Hi Catharine,

    I came looking for your chickens (well you made them sound so apealing) but got distracted by this post and my friend Rogers comments. I am planning to create a new border this year and am constantly on the lookout for inspiration. I want to create something which frames the view beyond it so I’m interested in ideas. Perhaps we should arrange an exchange vist. You can do the garden equivalent of kicking tyers and I can charm the chickens ( or bring you a few of the egg laying variety to suppliment your unproductive flock).

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