Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Corylus avellena contorta 'Harry Lauder's Walking Stick'

Everyone who sees this plant's silhouette in the winter or its catkins expanding in the spring needs to have it. It is truly spectacular. The weeping contorted branches often recross, occasionally grafting themselves together producing fantastical constructions . Wayside Gardens, long ago, maybe in the late 1960's or early 70's ran a page in their catalog with two picture of plants in the snow; this plant and Cornus alba siberica , a red-twigged dogwood. I expect they sold a lot of these combinations; I know my parents bought one. I planted their walking-stick at the top of a terraced wall that I had made for them. Shortly after moving to Adelphi, I planted a small walking-stick above the wall in the back garden. Today it is 8' tall and an irreplaceable fixture in our garden.

Back in the day, this plant was available only grafted; every year I spend too much time cutting off suckers from the rootstock. On more than one occasion, I remember going on a design appointment and meeting a walking-stick that had been completely overgrown by root suckers. I cut then away, to he horror of the plants owners, and the small contorted shrub that remained was freed for a while. I strongly recommend buying it on its "own roots", as many are grown this way now. While I have never been seconded on this opinion, it seems to me that the "own root" plants are more contorted. I think that this is because the extra vigor provided by the stronger rootstock allows for more cellular elongation when new growth is made and therefore more straight lengths....Of course I could be wrong.

The big negative issue with this plant (that is more than overbalanced by the positives) is that, it is a liability in the summer. Japanese beetles skeletonize the leaves and it is a fright to behold from June until it defoliates. This doesn't mean you can't have it; it just means that it needs to be sited where you can appreciate it in the winter and ignore it in the summer. It is a bonus if the sun shines through the catkins in the morning or late afternoon in the spring, but the catkins are so outstanding that it will draw your attention from anywhere.

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