IT CAME TO ME AS THE ROSEMARY WILLOW, Salix rosmarinifolia—meaning, the willow whose leaves look like rosemary’s (though on a much larger scale). And it came to me as a rooted cutting, maybe 8 inches high with a tiny branch or two developing off its pencil-sized main stem. My, how times–and both of us—have changed. Meet the renamed Salix elaeagnos, the most cooperative of shrubs, even where the ground is wet.
When I have garden tours, everyone asks what “that silvery-green tree by the vegetable garden” is—even many experts—because you don’t usually see it looking like a tree.
And even though I know somebody changed its name, at first I answer, “Salix rosmarinifolia…I mean…” then stop myself, and get it right.
“Will get leggy unless cut back hard periodically” is the kind of advice you’ll find in reference books, and yes, of course, I should have cut it to the ground every so-many years—but I never had the heart, and just let it express its gnarly, rambunctious self. Time periodic renewal pruning for late winter.
Many references say the rosemary-leaf willow will reach only 10 feet tall, but they have never just let the thing grow, apparently.
Other attributes: beautiful, textural gray-blue foliage; yellow fall color; easy to grow (like all willows seem to be); tolerant even of wet spots; hardy to at least Zone 4, and up to 7ish. One downfall: Like many willows, the fallen foliage is messy, so don’t put it where bits of it (and spent catkins, too) will fall on precious little things beneath, especially if you plan to let it have its way and grow, grow, grow.