Monday 22 January 2018

I love willow. But not this one. This one is doomed

By David Medcalf

I love willow. Here is a tree that makes a contribution.

Willows do not stand around striking poses. They are not like those big old beeches waiting for the first puff of wind to bring them crashing down on the nearest power line, blacking out half the county and inspiring chaos headlines on the nine o'clock news. In contrast, the supple, work-a-day willow is a tree which happily takes root in the soggy corners that other species avoid. Willows pay their own way in so many different ways, not least as best in class when it comes to producing fuel for green, environment friendly energy generation.

They hoover up sewage too, thriving on nutrients flushed down the loo, making them the perfect partner for the soakage pits serving toilets in out of the way places. Allowed to put on a few pounds, they provide the raw material for cricket bats. Harvested thin in the form of sallies, they are the stuff of intricately woven baskets.

The grounds of Idiot Manor are liberally populated with these speedy-grow go-getters. We have the full range from the orange barked ornamental to the rugged feral strays, the latter transplanted from the garden of a brother-in-law who did not appreciate an unbidden invasion interfering with his dainty rockery.

The exiled willows which he rejected as weeds have made the transition from a stony Wicklow acre to the bottomless soil of Wexford with scarcely a hiccup. Now they soldier bravely in the ranks beside specimens brought on from cuttings culled one frosty January morning a couple of years ago in the willow thickets of the Jamestown nature reserve near Oylegate. Ah yes, my old age will be amply warmed by willow logs.

I love willow and I have the track record to prove it - just not the willow which grows beside the pump shed. The willow beside the pump shed has to go. But the willow beside the pump shed is proving reluctant to depart.

It was Hermione, of course, who pronounced the stern sentence of execution. Hermione is not one to wallow in needless sentiment.

The willow in question has kept a low profile for years, quietly producing its downy catkins and sending up its merry shoots - gaily doing what willows do if left to their own devices. It is not so much a tree as a many-headed collection of woody stems, none more than ten feet high.

It only began drawing attention to itself when it became apparent that the wall of the pump shed was in imminent danger of cracking under pressure exerted by willow roots. Besides, Hermione received a potted Christmas gift of an arbutus - sometimes known as the strawberry tree - and the wild willow was occupying the perfect sunny site for the planting out of the tame arbutus.

So, the Idiot Gardener was called in to do the necessary. Easy peasy. I had a preliminary recce before lunch, poking at the area around the base of the doomed plant with my trusty spade. The ground proved surprisingly hard but not to worry.

After lunch, fortified by a goodly ration of Hermy's best homemade brack, I returned to the scene, this time additionally armed with trusty saw to cut away some of the lithe timber obstructing my view of the target underfoot. Within minutes, I was off to the tool shed, returning with trusty axe to hack away at those stubborn roots. Dig, saw, hack. Dig, saw, hack. Dig, saw, hack. This three-pronged operation was turning out to be not so easy at all. Progress was made but progress was slow. A task expected to take minutes was clearly going to require a full shift and major earth-moving. A halt was eventually called to operations after a couple of sweaty hours in favour of walking the dog and a trip to the supermarket.

But, like Macarthur, I will be back. This time with trusty pick axe - the nuclear option. The willow beside the pump shed is doomed.

Observation of the week:

Courgette flowers are every bit as edible as the courgettes themselves. They are best served deep fried, I believe, and any Italian chef worth his/her salt will be delighted to give you the recipe.

Wexford People

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