I think Easter is my favourite holiday. I know I always say it about any bank holiday that comes up, but Easter really is lovely. It is a time of hope and rebirth, and we celebrate it with the tradition of tying feathers to willow branches and decorating not only our homes but also our postboxes and road signs with them. Goat willow (Salix caprea) is such an excellent wildlife shrub that I would recommend it to anyone with even a bit of space in your garden.
The goat willow is dioecious which means that it has male and female catkins growing on different trees, with the male pollen maturing yellow while the female pollen turns green. As it is such an early flowering shrub it is really beneficial to insects, since it provides them with the all important nectar and pollen that is so rare at this time of year. The oval leaves that come later are also a food source for butterfly and moth larvae, and as they mature into old trees they harbour lots of different beetles. On my farm I have a few acres of wetland area on an old field near the river, and there I let it go absolutely wild, but sadly it is a very underestimated shrub or small tree and often disregarded as a garden plant. Goat willow will grow both on dry soil and on wetland areas, so an easier garden plant is hard to find.
Meanwhile the snow has finally melted and early spring bulbs are appearing on sunny parts of the gardens. I always look out for the first butterfly, as folklore has it that what kind of summer is coming up depends on the colour of the butterfly. This year it was a yellow common brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni), which has the happiest colour of all our spring butterflies and therefore is a great omen! The bees and bumblebees are also waking up, and they just love the winter aconites (Eranthis hyemalis) spreading out as a carpet underneath the old apple trees at Stensund. In Finland we have 37 different species of bumblebees, but I have yet to learn to identify all of them...
With this I would like to wish you all a lovely Easter holiday!