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,

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
Life and Style
A teenager boy wakes up.
Life and Style
Researchers have said it could take only two questions to identify a problem with alcohol
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Critics say Kipling showed loathing for India's primitive villagers in The Jungle Book
filmChristopher Walken, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johanssen Idris Elba, Andy Serkis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett and Christian Bale
Life and Style
Playing to win: for Tanith Carey, pictured with Lily, right, and Clio, even simple games had to have an educational purpose
lifeTanith Carey explains what made her take her foot off the gas
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
A still from Duncan Campbell's hour-long film 'It for Others'
Turner Prize 2014
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hadley in a scene from ‘Soul Boys Of The Western World’
musicSpandau Ballet are back together - on stage and screen
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Ed Stoppard as Brian Epstein, Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Elliott Cowan as George Martin in 'Cilla'
tvCilla review: A poignant ending to mini-series
Life and Style
Bearing up: Sebastian Flyte with his teddy Aloysius in Brideshead Revisited
lifePhilippa Perry explains why a third of students take a bear to uni
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Alan Sugar appearing in a shot from Apprentice which was used in a Cassette Boy mashup
artsA judge will rule if pieces are funny enough to be classed as parodies
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

LSA (afterschool club) vacancy in Newport

£40 per day + Travel Scheme : Randstad Education Cardiff: The Job: Our client ...

Trust Accountant - Kent

NEGOTIABLE: Austen Lloyd: TRUST ACCOUNTANT - KENTIf you are a Chartered Accou...

Geography Teacher

£85 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: randstad education are curre...

Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Group: You must:- Speak English as a first lang...

Day In a Page

Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

Inside the E15 'occupation'

We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
Witches: A history of misogyny

Witches: A history of misogyny

The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style