Flowery Friday: Willow.


These huge, furry, pollen-laden willow catkins stopped me in my tracks (pun intended) while walking near a crowded train station here in Calgary last week. I sort of wanted to hug them, but made do with a photograph instead.

What signs of spring (or autumn!) are you celebrating in your part of the world?

Flowery Friday: willows.


Happy Friday!  I can’t believe I had to flip the calendar over to May this morning.  What’s up with time, anyway?  I know it seems to fly as you get older, but for me, it’s feeling pretty supersonic at this point.  (Awhile back, I came across this review of a book about the perception of time in relation to age…might make for some interesting reading).

I managed to get out to Nose Hill one morning this week and saw all the willow catkins emerging…I quickly took a few photos and rushed to get myself and my camera out of the rain shower that suddenly started right above me (and only me, as far as I could tell).  We really could use a nice, soaking rain, although everything is greening up despite the dry conditions.  I noticed our neighbour’s fantastically floriferous forsythia (too much?) on the way back from the park – it is, of course, competing with all those show-off Prunus species.  All this incredible colour and beauty is enough to make your eyes drunk.

I planted some spinach and radish seeds in the raised bed at the community garden this week – this is the earliest I’ve ever put these crops in, although many would reckon I’m actually running late.  I know some people who plant outside under cover in March – and unlike most years, we didn’t have much snow and ice in that month.  Last year, I planted my spinach on the 20 of May. Most of my garlic is up now – I just love to see those spiky green shoots splitting the soil.

What are your plans for the weekend?  I’ve got a deadline looming on an article about lacto-fermentation (BTW – do any of you do any fermenting?  I’ve been puttering around lately with several different whole leaf herb ferments – they’re easy and fun).  I’m also hoping to get out for some fresh air – I was reading a recent blog post by a local hiker, Barry Taylor, and he suggested Strathcona Ravine here in Calgary for a little nature jaunt.  I’m keen to check it out – we’ve lived here nearly two decades and I hadn’t ever heard of it before.

Before I leave you, I have to share the foodie extravaganza that is the list of midway culinary treats for this year’s Calgary Stampede.  If you thought last year’s were over the top, you haven’t seen anything yet.  I can’t believe that gigantic ice cream cone or the $100 hotdog…and we won’t talk about the cockroach offering.  I feel pretty much like I did last year – the poutines are the most tempting for me (well, except for the one with the doughnuts and the jalapenos – that just smacks of a stomach ache in a bowl).  What would you try?  Which of these is just too excessive (well, besides ALL of them)?

Willow catkins.

I have to run to catch up with spring, it seems…it’s all flying by in a blur!  I noticed our neighbour’s flowering plum is starting to bloom, even while a few doors down, there is a forsythia going strong.  The dandelions are threatening to take over the lawn (which makes me wonder why the rabbits choose to eat my liatris instead), and there are a million wild crocuses (Anemone patens)  up on Nose Hill flowering in sync with the golden (buffalo) bean.  The larches and the chokecherries and the aspens just leafed out these past couple of days – everything is that crazy young, glossy green, so bright it’s hard to comprehend.

I found these willow catkins this morning while walking on Nose Hill – what an amazing texture and colour!  You can really see the pollen on a couple of these images.





What are you enjoying most about spring (or autumn, if you live in the southern hemisphere)? 


Wolf willow.

Although I wouldn’t necessarily recommend wolf willow as a worthy addition to most* gardens, you can’t deny its good looks. Especially against a stormy sky:



Elaeagnus commutata (also known as silverberry) isn’t actually a willow at all – it’s a member of the Oleaster family and is related to buffaloberry (Shepherdia). While a beauty, it’s not an ideal ornamental in small gardens due to its invasive spreading root system, but if you have a large area with poor, infertile soil or a need for erosion control*, wolf willow may be very useful.  Proper siting is key!

You’ll find wolf willow all over southern Alberta, often in open prairie. There are quite a few of them on the hillsides high above the riverbanks in Bowmont Natural Area here in Calgary‘s northwest, and several “groves” of them in Nose Hill Park.  Bloomtime is mid-June, and boy, are they ever making a show (and smell) of it this year!  (Might have something to do with the extra rainwater).  Wolf willow flowers have a sweet scent that can be rather overpowering in large doses.


While rooting around the ‘net for some historical info about wolf willow, I came across several references to the shrub being used as decoration, food, and medicine by Native Americans.  Apparently, the berries were collected in the fall, boiled, and peeled to reveal the beautiful nutlets inside, dark brown seeds striped with bright yellow bands.  The seeds were pierced and used to make pretty necklaces often used as trade items, and they were often sewn onto garments.   (I will have to do some foraging later in the season and get my craft on!).  The berries were also mixed with animal fat and stored in a cool place to congeal, later enjoyed as a sweet.  Alternatively, the berries were cooked together with animal blood and eaten, which leads me to wonder what the berries taste like without the unappetizing additions.  (Apparently, my palate is picky).  Wolf willow bark was used to fashion baskets for transport and storage, and it was also made into a tonic to combat the symptoms of frostbite.¹

Wolf willow

Does wolf willow grow in your part of the world? Have you planted it in your garden?