When Grandpa planted a willow tree, its roots grew from one generation to the next.
Story by Laurie Gifford Adams, Manchester, Connecticut
My grandfather was proud of his weeping willow tree. Years ago he saw one in a field and decided a willow like that would be a nice addition to his yard. So he broke off a large branch and took it home.
Grandpa found a wet spot behind his house and stuck the branch in the ground. Then he left it alone.
Given the right conditions, including a lot of moisture, a willow branch will quickly establish a root system. That first year Mother Nature came through for Grandpa and his branch, which took root and grew into the beauty it is today.
Grandpa passed away in 1986. My father sold the farm and helped Grandma move into a house across the road and down the field from my parents. My father immediately planted a laurel willow next to the driveway. Over the years, that tree, too, grew quickly and took on a beautiful shape.
When my husband, Jim, and I bought 33 acres of open farmland in Gorham, New York, we wanted to establish a natural boundary in our front yard, which is about 10 acres, without investing a lot of money. Back in 2002, while walking past my grandparents’ old place, I had an idea. I decided to try Grandpa’s willow planting method for myself.
I went to Grandma’s and studied the lower branches of her laurel willow. I pictured Grandpa surveying the willow tree he’d taken his branch from. I had no idea how big the branch had to be in order to take root. So I chose three from different areas of the tree and yanked until they came loose, just as I imagined Grandpa had done.
With my prizes in hand, I jumped in my TrailBlazer and drove to our property, 19 miles away. I didn’t know if it would be a problem if the exposed area of the branches dried out, so I raced home.
I went to the wettest place in our field, where the groundwater often pooled, and picked the spot for the biggest branch. I shoved it into the soft ground as hard as I could.
When I stepped back, it stayed in place, so I did the same with the other two. I’d like to say there was some botanical wisdom behind my method, but that would be stretching the truth. I did take my planting a step beyond Grandpa’s, though, by securing each of the branches with stakes and twine to give them a better chance.
Then, like Grandpa, I left the branches alone.
After several weeks, the leaves were still green and the branches supple. I was careful to touch them gently. I never watered them, nor did I add fertilizer or mulch. I just kept an eye on them the rest of the year and let nature take over.
By the end of May, tiny leaves worked their way through the buds in the bark. It took time, but in spring 2008 two of the three branches became little trees. There was plenty of new growth on them, they looked sturdy, and the leaves were a lovely soft green.
In the years since, the surviving trees have exploded with growth. When we mow the field around them, we marvel at how vibrant they are and try to imagine what they’ll look like in 20 years.
I’m sure Grandpa had no idea what he started when he pushed that first branch into the ground. It makes me wonder if future generations will be intrigued by our story and try their luck at sticking willow branches in the ground.
For now, I’m proud to know our trees have taken root in our land. They are living symbols of the strength and endurance of our family tree.