When I was growing up, a sure sign of spring was a vase of pussy willow branches that my mother had cut from a neighbor’s yard and brought inside to force. I would wait impatiently for the furry gray catkins to emerge, and they never failed to amaze me. They still do.
Willows (Salix species) are plants that every organic gardener should include in the garden. They produce pollen early in the spring, when many beneficials are just emerging, providing protein for pollinating insects. Pussy willows are easy to grow and fun to cut for flower arrangements. Most garden centers will carry pussy willows in spring, or you can root cuttings from a neighbor’s shrub in water.
To force pussy willow branches, wait until the branches have many tight buds on them. Cut each branch on an angle and smash the end of the branch with a hammer (this will help it soak up water). Bring them inside and place in a tall vase.
These images of catkins from my collection of antique paper may inspire you. Enjoy!
The circa-1910 postcard below is the work of German artist Catherine Klein, who was renowned for her paintings of flowers. It was printed in Germany but appears to have a Russian inscription. If anyone out there can translate, please do!
This Easter postcard, dated 1911, was printed in England:
Oddly, Lord & Taylor (the department store) used catkins in its Christmas advertising during the 1880s, as this trade card attests:
More appropriate to catkin season is this German Easter postcard, mailed in 1914: