After the long winter, it's refreshing to discover a few signs of spring, such as the soft, velvety paws of the pussy willow, Salix discolor. After purchasing my farm, I decided to plant an entire mixed-variety pussy willow grove in an area behind my main greenhouse - at the moist edge of the wetlands. In 2012, my outdoor grounds crew gave the pussy willows a heavy pruning. It is good to do this every few years to keep them productive and healthy. Now, five years later, it was time to do it again before the start of any active growth. Here are some photos of the process.
My pussy willow grove is located in an area where there is full sun and lots of moisture. It is always best to do any severe pruning while plants are still dormant, usually mid- to late March. Since pussy willows bloom in late winter or very early spring, this was the perfect time.
If you recall, we already cut many beautiful pussy willow branches for arrangements a few weeks ago.
Salix discolor is the American pussy willow. Pussy willows can grow up to 20-feet or even more, when left unpruned. Pussy willow trunks can be either single or clustered with flexible branches and branchlets.
There are two techniques to use when pruning a pussy willow tree. Coppice pruning is meant to encourage the pussy willow plant to produce many long, straight catkins-filled branches. Shape pruning can be done more frequently to create a full and pretty bush. Here, Wilmer starts by pruning older branches that are thicker and grey in color.
Chhewang uses sharp pruners and makes cuts above the nodes. Cutting above nodes that grow furthest from the center of the shrubs of branches is most effective.
Branches of pussy willows that are already crossing should be removed. They shade each other, reducing the number of catkins.
Every few years, it is a good idea to do some coppice pruning and cut trees back to six-to-12-inch stumps.
I prefer pruning to be done by hand instead of by power tools – it is a slower process, but provides a more detailed and prettier finish.
However, sometimes heavier equipment is needed to completely remove a tree – this one had just grown too old, and needed to be taken down.
Temperatures were still very cold, so while the ground was still relatively frozen, the outdoor grounds crew was able to bring the chipper straight to the site without damaging the landscape.
Our chipper was connected to our trusted John Deere tractor and brought as close as possible to the pussy willow area.
As branches were removed, Dawa carried them to the chipper.
Pete helped to feed the branches into the chipper. It was a very efficient and well-paced production line process.
The chipper grinds up the wood and shoots it back out to the earth.
It’s a great way to repurpose and reuse.
Here is Pete carrying a heavy trunk to the chipper.
It’s important to remember that severe pruning also results in larger, more full catkins, so it is a very useful chore.
New shoots will be encouraged to emerge from the roots as “suckers.”
Pruning bushes also helps prevent disease, fungus and insect problems.
The idea behind pruning pussy willows is to promote growth – to increase the size of the shrubs laterally, while restricting their upward development.
Chhiring decided to save some of the branches for other projects, such as building trellises. Here he is selecting and trimming appropriate branches.
Chhiring needs long, straight pieces that could work as trellis uprights – he specifically chose those that were about six to 10-feet long.
Some of the younger pussy willow trees that did not need coppice pruning still had a few good catkins-filled branches. This is a variety called Prairie Willow.
There were also a few more of the Purple Heirloom variety. It has attractive blonde bark, thin grassy stems, and lots of small dark purple catkins.
Purba carries more branches to the chipper – the crew is getting a lot of pruning done, while also cleaning the surrounding woodland areas.
Here is a pruned pussy willow – we cut most of them down to about six-feet tall – it takes a lot of time to prune all these pussy willows, but they grow fast and will be even better and more prolific next year.
After two days, the big pruning project is complete – they all look great. I am looking forward to all the arrangements I can make!
As many you know, one of my favorite places to visit is Maine, where I have a very special home named Skylands on Mount Desert Island.
Last year, I was invited to serve as Guest Editor of the April/May 2017 issue of Down East, a wonderful magazine illuminating the culture, food and spirit of Maine. I was truly delighted with the opportunity to share my stories, thoughts and inspirations with its readers - I have so many fond memories of my time there - hiking the trails of Acadia National Park, visiting the area gardens, restaurants and shops, and restoring my beloved and historic home.
If you haven't already seen the issue, I encourage you to pick up a copy today if you can - it is on regional Maine newsstands through May 23rd. I want to thank the entire Down East team for all their hard work - in particular, Down East Special Projects Editor, Sarah Stebbins, and Earle Shettleworth Jr., one-time president of the Maine Historical Society, author of "Mount Desert Island: Somesville, Southwest Harbor, and Northeast Harbor” and "Bar Harbor,” and Maine State Historian. And, thanks to longtime member of my team, Senior Brand Relations Manager, Kimberly Dumer, for all her contributions. Enjoy this photo gallery and the spring edition of Down East. Let me know what you think in the comments section below.
Do you have a copy of the April/May issue of Down East? Here I am on the cover. This photo was taken at Skylands, my home in Maine. Get a special subscription offer by clicking on this link. goo.gl/xqNsQj (Photo by Pieter Estersohn; cover courtesy of Down East)
The issue is filled with stories inspired by my love for Maine, which began many years ago during a college vacation to the area – I talk about it in the “letter from the editor”. (Photo courtesy of Down East)
I also talk about Skylands, my home on Mount Desert Island. It is very special to me – the views of Seal Harbor from my large terrace are spectacular.
This is the front entrance of Skylands. Architect, Duncan Chandler, worked closely with landscape designer, Jens Jensen, to build this majestic pink granite structure for Edsel Ford in the 1920s – I am awed by its beauty every time I visit.
Here is my large terrace overlooking Seal Harbor. During summer, this terrace is a hub of activity for many parties and gatherings. (Photo by Lucas Acuna)
I love this view of the front entrance circle, with all the lush green plantings – purple smoke bushes, hay-scented ferns, and yellow spruce trees, Picea orientalis ‘Skylands’. Everything looks so pretty surrounded by the pink granite driveway. (Photo by Lucas Acuna)
This is the terrace entrance protected by a pair of glazed terra-cotta sphinxes designed by Emile Muller.
The Skylands Council Circle is where we enjoy fires at night and share stories. I had this circle built after finding plans for one in the original Skylands Jens Jensen blueprints. When not in use, the fire stone is covered with a copper cone.
If you follow my blog regularly, I am sure you recognize this lady. Positioned on a lower level just beneath the Western Terrace is La Riviere by Aristide Maillol. Here, she is resting comfortably in her bed of ferns.
This is my garden at Skylands. The soil is comprised of lots of red granite, and loam. It is very fertile. (Photo by Lucas Acuna)
The exterior of Skylands abounds with naturalized ferns of many types.
This is the rear entrance leading into the kitchen. Hanging baskets with Boston ferns always add a nice touch of green to the space.
I’m sitting in a very special vintage 1958 Edsel. It is my two-door six-passenger station wagon called a Roundup and only 963 were produced.
These are the steps leading to the Western Terrace, a lovely space for entertaining guests and enjoying summer meals.
Every year, we move a large amount of tropical plants from my Bedford greenhouses to Skylands. I also dedicate one spring weekend to planting all the large urns, pots and planters. It’s quite an undertaking, but I enjoy the annual task, especially with the group of friends that accompany me from year to year. (Photo by Pieter Estersohn)
The stone trough is something I bought at Trade Secrets a few years ago. It has worked perfectly here at Skylands, and looks beautiful planted up. (Photo by Pieter Estersohn)
Here, you can see my “cracked ice” pavers. Over the years, I have worked hard to restore the terraces and gardens that Jens Jensen envisioned. (Photo by Lucas Acuna)
The leaded glass windows of Skylands are a mix of diamond and rectangular shaped panes. Kiwi vines hang overhead.
The Living Hall at Skylands is always used during summer months. This grand faux-bois cement table, made by artist Carlos Cortes, is where I like to display large flower arrangements for my parties.
This garden is on the property of Ox Ledge, an old house I purchased right near Skylands, which I plan to restore.
This is a view on the way to Jordan’s Pond with the “Bubbles” in the distance.
Here’s Thunder Hole, which is best viewed two-hours before high tide.
This is Bunker’s Ledge – a small island in the mouth of Seal Harbor, where many harbor seals love to congregate and rest between feedings.
And the amazing Asticou Azalea Garden – I visit every year – so gorgeous.
Of course, for me, Maine is magical any time of year. Because of my busy calendar, I don’t often get to visit Skylands during the winter months, but Cheryl Dulong, who works there, sends me many beautiful photographs to keep me updated. This photo was taken soon after a recent winter storm from Skyland’s Terrace One looking out over Seal Harbor.
Here is the snowy terrace with a glimpse of the ocean beyond.
Snow even builds on top of the pergola above my Western Terrace – these kiwi vines, which are original to the house, have been through many snowfalls.
Here is a view from the Living Hall doors looking out onto a portion of the terrace – I love looking out at the surrounding spruce trees.
I cannot wait to return to Maine in a few weeks to see these views of the majestic Seal Harbor.
I encourage you to get an issue of Down East, and learn about all the wonderful places to visit in Maine – I am sure you too will fall in love. And for more information, go to Downeast.com. (Photo courtesy of Down East)
As many of you know, I added 20-fancy pigeons to my Bedford flock earlier this year. They live in a very safe coop near my chicken yard. Many of the birds were featured in last year's “Fly by Night” performance in New York City by artist, Duke Riley and were members of Duke’s personal flock. Others were borrowed or rescued from pigeon fanciers for the performance. I adopted this small group to live here at the farm, and I am happy to report, they are all healthy, happy and thriving.
Here are some of the latest photos… enjoy.
This is one of two pigeon lofts here at my farm. Because we only have 20, they all live together very comfortably in one coop.
On one side of the loft is an entire wall of nesting spaces. Pigeons mate for life, and both female and male pigeons share responsibility of caring for and raising their young.
Pigeons breed all year round with peak breeding periods in spring and summer.
Fancy pigeons are domesticated varieties of the wild rock dove, bred by pigeon fanciers for size, shape, color, and behavior.
The 10-pairs in our Bedford flock include Dunn Tippler, Egyptian Swift, Damascene, and Isabella Tippler.
Oftentimes, pigeons of the same breed will stay close together – here is a pair of Dunn Tipplers.
Here is an Egyptian Swift and an Almond Tippler. Tipplers are renowned for their endurance – they can remain in uninterrupted flight for long periods of time.
Pigeons are very social animals. They will often be seen in flocks of 20 to 30 birds.
I just love the wide range of colors and markings on these fancy pigeons.
The Damascene pigeon is thought to have originated in Damascus, Syria. It is loved for its beauty and companionship – it is even believed that the Damascene was an avian companion to the prophet, Muhammed.
Pigeons are thought to navigate by sensing the earth’s magnetic field and using the sun for direction. Other theories include the use of roads and even low frequency seismic waves to find their way.
Here is a dark Egyptian Swift.
This is a beautiful Isabella Tippler.
This is the back of the loft, the aviary, where the pigeons socialize and view all the happenings around the farm. This section is all enclosed with special netting to keep them safe.
The floor of the aviary, is made of strong gage wire netting, supported with wooden beams.
All birds roost. As soon as these pigeons arrived, we made a suitable ladder out of felled branches found right here at the farm. The pigeons love to perch on it during the day.
This pigeon is a Dunn Tippler – another bird that is very adept at staying in flight for hours without stopping.
Pigeons are very docile, gentle and sweet natured birds. Everyone at the farm loves to visit with them.
A pigeon’s diet contains about 50-percent grain crops, and 10-percent oil seed, rich in vitamins B and E. An average adult sized pigeon can eat about 30-grams of food each day. Like all our birds, we make sure the pigeons always have fresh food and water.
The white bird in the center is a Homer – among the most famous pigeon breeds. Homers come in a variety of colors and have a remarkable ability to find their way home from very long distances.
Pigeons can fly at altitudes of 6000-feet or more. Pigeons can also fly at average speeds of up to 77-miles per hour.
And, like humans, pigeons can see in color, but they can also see ultraviolet light, a part of the spectrum that humans cannot see. As a result, pigeons are often used in search and rescue missions at sea.
I am so happy these pigeons are acclimating well to their new surroundings. They will remain in their enclosure until they are fully accustomed to this as home.
Dawa, who cares for all our outdoor avian friends, visits the pigeons twice a day to check on their food, water and well-being. Here he is with a newly laid pigeon egg.