The willow wizard: Trevor Wood has spent 30 years collecting varieties of just one tree

"There was always a joke around the nursery," says Caroline Wood of the business she started with her husband: "If it has bright, beautiful flowers on it, Trevor won't like it."

Sure enough, Trevor Wood's patch at the Royal Horticultural Society London Flower Show earlier this month wasn't about bright colours or showy display. Rather, it was a glimpse of a wilder world: slim minimalist stems that curled in subtle shades, looking like the work of a Japanese flower arranger.

Wood's passion is willow, and he's devoted the past 30 years to developing a vast collection from around the world. When you see them all massed together, as they were at the show, the variation of colours and shapes is stunning. Some have dark, winey-coloured stems, others are bright yellows and greens.

"He's an obsessive collector," says his wife. "Once he got into them, he was constantly tracking down new varieties and hunting down information on them."

And Wood has increasingly felt the same delight for the trees as her husband: "There was a time I thought willows were boring, but when I saw the more unusual ones, I began to fall in love with them."

The result is a whole field of willow at the couple's home in Devon, where rare cultivars jostle with each other for space. One of the loveliest for bright colour is Salix alba "Britzensis", which streaks a fiery red through a cold spring day. It needs to be cut back every year, as by nature it's a 50ft tree, but this treatment is to the grower's advantage, as the coppicing produces more of the lovely red stems. It looks good combined with Salix alba "Vitellina", a gorgeous limey-yellow, or with Cornus sericea "Cardinal", which has a pinkier stem, the colour of the rosy cheeks of teenage models. There's also Salix daphnoides, with its dark wine-purple stems. And Caroline enthuses about Salix hookeri, one of her favourites: "It has this fascinating branching pattern, likes stags' antlers, and a slight bloom on the bark."

There are amazing differences in the catkins – the willows' flowers – too. "There's something so endearing about catkins," says Wood. "They have this glowing quality, at a time of year when you really want everything to get going again. They can vary from being little and furry, like a young animal, to being sleek and refined. There are some that are yellow and feathery – almost like a baby chick."

For the classiest in catkins, you can't go wrong with "Blue Streak" Salix acutifolia, sometimes called the Siberian violet willow, which makes it sound appropriately aloof. It has a catkin so grey, smooth and shiny it looks as though it's wearing a mink coat, which also ties in with the snooty Russian theme. Then there's Salix gracilistyla "Melanostachys", which has black catkins that look like bear-fur hats.

Willows are not just beautiful plants: they may yet save the world. They are so fast-growing – putting on yards of stem and basketfuls of leaves in a single season – that they are a plantation tree of choice for biomass boilers.

For that reason, they are not terribly suitable for small gardens. But that's not to say you can't enjoy growing them for a short while from cut twigs. "Every year I put a few stems in water on the kitchen window sill," Wood enthuses. "I just love watching the roots develop."

Over the next few weeks, in the run-up to Easter, you'll see willow cuttings everywhere – in your local flower shops, even on sale by the bucketload at railway stations. But your best bet is to go and look at them in full bloom to choose which you like best. You'll enjoy being seduced by their many subtle charms, too. When I said to Caroline that her husband had obviously managed to convert her, she replied, smiling: "Oh no, the willows managed that on their own."

The next RHS London Flower Show is 11-12 March, RHS Horticultural Halls, Greycoat St, London SW1, www.rhs.org.uk

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: SAGE Bookkeeper & PA to Directors

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Executive

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An On-line Sales & Customer Ser...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant - Fixed Term Contract - 6 Months

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the largest hospitality companies...

Recruitment Genius: Electricians - Fixed Wire Testing

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As a result of significant cont...

Day In a Page

Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map