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Two years ago I was sent some willow cuttings from the research centre at Rothampstead, who keep the National willow collection. The cuttings were for me to use to see which were the earliest flowering willows. My interest is early bee forage. I have  a lot of violet willow (Salix daphnoides), which is my earliest flowering willow and every year I’m relieved when I see my bees foraging on it, as I know that their lean period is over. From then on, there is a steady flow of nectar until early Summer, and only the weather.

I was expecting to find that the Musk willow (Salix aegyptiaca) that they sent, would be the earliest to flower, based on what I’d read. That’s not proved to be the case. A week ago I saw this.

Early flowering willow


This is a hybrid willow, and I cannot find the paperwork with the proper name (very frustrating for a plant geek). What I remember is that the variety was ‘Lapin’. It is already a week ahead of all of the others, which is impressive as the larger trees normally flower first, and these are still small. They are planted below the swales in the forest garden.

Early Flowering willow


I normally mark the earliest flowering trees, and use them to take cuttings from, making sure that they are male trees (also carrying pollen).

This is one example of the permaculture principle of Observe and Interact. We see something, note it, and use it to help with our designs. In this case, I planted three new varieties, and observed which were the first to flower. I will now wait another year, in case this has more to do with the vigour of the species, than it being inherently earlier flowering than the others. Once I’m sure, I’ll use cuttings from the earliest, to fill in any gaps in my tree plantings.

Staying on the theme of bee forage for now, my Cornelian cherries (Cornus mas) are also about to flower. These are 5 trees, planted as hedging whips, three years ago. Again, this is useful to know. Not only are they good early bee forage, but they have edible fruits. These trees were planted a year before the 50 that went into the Coppice and orchard. Hopefully, that means that these should begin to flower next spring. The winter flowering honeysuckle have been flowering for a while. I have some more to plant, that I’ve grown from seed, provided that I can stop giving them away. The crocus are flowering, but not in large quantities. Not sure if the numbers are dropping, or that there are more to come. I’m planning to plant some more. They’re a good way of adding  a lot of bee forage quickly.

Wishing you well