On one side a seemingly infinite carpet of green moves wavily over the fields all the way to Holmby church. On the other a bare, plowed expanse is ridged and flattened into rows. Stones of all sizes dot the field, they're constantly coming up. A long overgrown stone pile bisects two fields. As the road curves around the corner, it meets a ferny nettle-sided ditch, and a long row of pilar—willow trees—gnarled and twisted. Some of them have split in half and grown wide and open, leaning over the ditch, their green whippy branches sticking straight up in the air.
There's no tree as symbolic of the Scanian landscape as the knobby, round-headed white willow, cultivated year after year to create its unique appearance.The knobby tops of the willows are created by severe pruning every 3-4 years at the base of the branches. At the end of the 1600's a willow-planting campaign was begun in Sweden and endorsed by the king. The royal order was issued to all Swedish farmers to plant a specific amount of willows each year, with the intent to provide material for fences and enclosures. Unpopular at first, and enforced with controls and fines, the Swedes soon discovered many uses for these versatile trees.
In 1749 Carl Linnea advised the southern Swedes to plant them around all farm yards to help salvage Skåne. The forests had long disappeared to make way for agriculture and the tree-poor area was actually in danger of losing all of its topsoil to the wind. Willows provided shelter and protection against the sweeping winds that roust the Scanian landscape and were proof against erosion as well. They were prized for many things, not least the wood they provided and the thin bendable branches for basket-making, but also the pain- and fever-reducing properties of the bark*. They were cheap and they grew quickly, reaching stately sizes after only 20 years, and easily reproducing.
When the willow leaves were as big as mouse ears it was time to sow the wheat, and if the green willow leaves curled in the autumn, an early and hard winter was on the way. In the winter, their cropped heads and twisted trunks loom in rows along the foggy country roads. In the spring their branches resemble the upswept hair of troll dolls. Green, tufted, whippy willows: Spring has come to Sweden and made itself at home.
*willow is the source of salicylic acid from which we get aspirin