We ‘retired’ to Vermont in 2005 to a 50 acre ‘farm’ that hadn’t been farmed for many years. There were 3-4 perennials, a lilac bush, a few spruce trees, a couple of Scots Pine and many marvelous old apple trees (planted and seedlings). Plenty of weeds, brush, barbed wire, farm debris and fertile, but wet loam over shallow bedrock. On a visit to the nearby Montreal Botanic Garden in 2006 we were awed by a display of living willow structures. Light bulbs went off in my head (or a moment of sheer insanity) about our wet property! Lets grow willows; addiction soon followed!
At the Vermont Flower Show March 2007 we bought our first willow cuttings and then contacted friends in the horticultural world to start building up our collection (~500 varieties now and the largest collection of Salix in North America). Our first mail-order purchase of cuttings was from the now defunct Willow Dreams Farm in Kentucky! We also visited willow growers in England that winter to learn the basics. We return to England most years to see what developments have been made in willow uses. We enjoy a mutually beneficial relationship with some of the top Botanical Gardens and Arboreta in North America, trading Salix cuttings and information.
We have a good relationship with top Salix taxonomists in North America, Britain and Russia in an attempt to make sure that the Salix we offer are correctly identified. I constantly stay in touch to in touch with the latest nomenclature changes in the list of Willows.
Note of interest: in 2018 grad students from the University of Illinois visited Vermont Willow Nursery as part of a study of native bees and there health. After spending the day at the Nusery we were told that they had never seen such healthy and abundant colonies of Native Bees. We stopped using weedkillers about 10 years ago and only use organic pesticides when absolutely necessary and only after the willows are finished blooming.
In 2021 we sold Vermont Willow Nursery to Lisa Carper and Aric Vanselous and have retired to Nova Scotia, Canada.
Sonia and Michael Dodge
E-mail us if you have suggestions, questions, corrections,
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To read more about Vermont Willow Nursery, you may enjoy this blog from our friend and customer, Donald Statham:
Here is a radio interview Michael had with Nikki Jabbour in Halifax, Nova Scotia Summer 2014 where he talks about his horticultural career. Next summer he will do another interview with Nikki to talk about Willows!
Here is a radio interview Michael had with Margaret Roach on her Radio Program and Top-rated "A Way to Garden Blog".
About Michael Dodge
Born in the English Lake District, Michael was trained at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew as a plantsman and horticulturist. He left England on the Queen Mary I, November 5 1964, after being offered a position by Tom Everett (legendary Director of Horticulture) at the New York Botanical Garden.
In 1967 was hired by Henry Francis du Pont at that National Treasure, Winterthur Gardens in Delaware to become Assistant to the Director of Gardens. He also bred Viburnum dilatatum ‘Michael Dodge’ while there and worked toward his BSc in Ornamental Horticulture at the University of Delaware.
In 1971 he was employed by William Bliss Harris at White Flower Farm in Litchfield, Connecticut as Propagator, then in turn: Horticulturist, Plantsman, Director of Horticulture, Primary Photographer, Catalogue Director and finally Catalog Designer (by learning how to use Quark Express and Photoshop). Michael also discovered Amsonia ‘Blue Ice’ among a batch of Amsonia tabernaemontana at Sunny Border Nursery in Connecticut. During that time Michael was very active in the Connecticut NARGS Chapter and Chapter Chairman for 2 years.
In 1997 Michael then became a full time horticultural photographer. With his new wife Sonia he travelled widely in North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand photographing for a company in Europe as well as for horticultural magazines and catalogues. Michael gave horticultural talks (including all about willows) and also advises homeowners on garden design and garden problems.
In 2005, Sonia and Michael moved to Vermont and the following year visited the Montreal Botanic Garden and saw a demonstration of creating Living Structures from Willows. As Michael had spied several native willows growing on the new property (without knowing what they were!), but he knew he could grow willows on this land that had been farmed for at least 150 years. The following year they visited three renowned Salix growers in England and was given an education in Salicology by three very special gentlemen. Back in the States Michael ordered his first willows from the now defunct Willow Dream Farms in Kentucky and bought some cuttings at the Vermont Flower Show. Then friends and fellow enthusiasts gave Michael cuttings from their gardens and nurseries. Many noted Salicologist have shared their time and knowledge with Michael; none more so that Brooklyn born and now Canadian Salix legend: Professor George Argus.
The nursery began in 2006 and is now in its 14th year. Michael learned how to put up a website using iWeb and started developing Vermont Willow Nursery. As soon as Michael published the site for the first time in 2012 Apple ended iWeb. Oops! Luckily a Canadian company bought the rights to the iWeb program and issued Everweb in 2013 and the following year Michael switched to that program with the great assistance from the owners and on-line support groups. The first few years the site was very amateurish and Michael had lots of "suggestions" from on-line developers. The website is now Michael's pride and joy; it is the product of hundreds of hours of work. Michael used his knowledge of photography to show Willows in a way that no one has ever done before. He hope's that the website promotes the use of Willows and allows people to learn more about these great plants. In the nursery Michael has close to 500 different willows, probably the largest collection in North America and maybe the World. Michael is totally addicted to the genus Salix!
In 2017 Sonia and Michael visited Norway, Finland and Iceland, where Michael saw lots of Salix for the first time. In June 2018 Michael visited China for the first time in on a trip to the Yunnan Mountains. Sadly, he was not allowed to bring back cuttings from this trips as all Willows are banned from entry into the US by the very misinformed/misguided people at APHIS (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service). Typical government ignorance!sMichael is now is now sharing his knowledge of the genus Salix to help Public Gardens with the nomenclature of their Willows in their Collections. He has assisted the Denver Botanical Garden, the Chicago Botanical Garden, the Morton Arboretum, the Holden Arboretum, the Dawes Arboretum, the Brooklyn Botanical Garden, and the Montreal Botanical Garden. When he isn't able to help, Michael calls on two Russian Salicologists to help out. First is Dr. Irina Belyaeva, recently retired head of the Herbarium of the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew; secondly Dr. Julia Kuzovkina of the University of Connecticut. Together the three of us recently worked on a paper regarding the taxonomy of Salix gracilistyla, its cultivars and hybrids—including Salix xleucopithecia (gracilistyla x caprea). This is what the West (including us) erroneously called Salix chaenomeloides; a totally different species. Here's a link to that species: . What was incorrectly labelled Salix chaenomeloides, Michael gave the cultivar name 'Winter Glory' as it is so showy all winter. .
Kuzovkina has published a Willow Check List of all published Salix cultivars and is involved with the authority that will control the publishing of new Willow cultivar names. As of November 2021 Julia is working on an update for the Checklist of Salix cultivars.
CHECKLIST for CULTIVARS of Salix L. (willow)
In the summer of 2021 Sonia and Michael sold their home, land and business to Lisa Carper and Aric Vanselous after they had apprenticed under our guidence. They are young, intelligent and enthusiastic; we hope that they will be able to maintain the Willow Collection and continue to supply America with the most diverse collection of willows this nation has ever had.
Michael pollarding Salix xsalamonii ‘Chrysocoma’
opposite the family house
Michael with his first plant support.
October 2010 at Windrush Willows, UK
of Michael Dodge
Michael with a bundle of coppiced rods in early April. Winter takes its time to leave Northern Vermont!
Sonia and Michael visiting Bryce Canyon, Utah!
Michael in front of
Salix alba 'Silver Column'