Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Garden Contortion

I love contorted forms in the garden, particularly in winter.  All plants have some sort of a form, whether it is rounded, mounding, arching, upright, weeping, contorted, etc.  Form is a valuable asset in the garden and as we combine different forms, the result is a more interesting composition.  Interesting form in the winter garden can be very conspicuous and a valid feature.  For that reason, I'm focusing on the contorted filbert (Corylus avellana 'Contorta') and associated cultivars in this blog.  The photo above (shared by Ken Tropp and taken at RBG) shows the interesting branches and stems of this special woody plant, also called Harry Lauder's walking stick.  The original plant was found in the mid 1800s along a hedgerow in England.  The best part of this plant is this irregular and picturesque branching, particularly between November and May when the crinkled, unexciting leaves are gone.  The photo below is one of our five specimens around the gardens (and probably our best).  I have a nice 8' specimen at home and we expect all of these to mature at about 10' tall.  I do remember seeing an old specimen years ago at the Kalamazoo Nature Center (MI) that was almost 15' tall though!  It is important to mention that the stems can get very congested and we are quite severe with pruning out about 1/3 of each plant each year to open up space.  Branch rubbing is unavoidable but target pruning can maximize the visual appeal and texture.  Our pruning is for the winter silhouette and of course, air circulation.  The plant becomes less exciting in the summer as the leaves are not exceptional, are delicious for Japanese beetles and ultimately obscure the best feature of this plant; the contortion!  See the foliage in the fourth photo down.   The cut branches are nice in displays and no two are the same.  Unattended (un-pruned) plants become congested and unsightly.  Be wary of root suckers that may emerge as straight stems and should be judiciously pruned out upon appearance.  This is an annual duty on all grafted specimens.  Harry Lauder's walking stick is a great deciduous woody plant for interest and it has been nice to see some new selections of this contorted filbert that maintain the form but have the added benefit of maroon foliage!  See further below for those options.
We had another warm day out in the gardens.  Larry and Pat went out for various duties including seeing what Holiday Lights Show (HLS) elements have become unfrozen and can be hauled back for storage.  The gardens are a quagmire right now but I wont complain about the snow cover (unless we get flooded of course...).  Mary W. and Janice were in the office working on projects.  We had a Garden Development & Maintenance Committee Meeting which included Gary S., Big John, Christy M., Christine R., Hal R., Dr. Gredler, Larry H. and me.  Dr. Gredler also worked on some painting touch up of our garbage bins.  We covered a lot of ground in the meeting including some final updates on our spring collections and displays.  We also saw Tina B., Carol S. and many others today.
winter form of contorted filbert (Corylus avellana 'Contorta') at RBG
male catkins in spring
late season shot of the branching
contorted filbert (Corylus avellana 'Contorta') "in leaf"
 grafted form on single leader
 interesting stems (pruned)

In 2008, the variety 'Red Majestic' (foliage seen above) was introduced from Germany.  This variety was a cross between a purple-foliaged filbert (Corylus avellana) selection and the contorted filbert (Corylus avellana 'Contorta').  The result is, in essence, a contorted, maroon leaf filbert.  The spring growth is the darkest maroon and while older leaves age to a greenish maroon (see specimen below at Olbrich Botanical Gardens, Madison, WI) by mid-summer, the new growth is always a vivid maroon.  It's important to mention that this selection is mostly green by August with just some maroon highlights here and there.  It is still a nice visual specimen and the spring growth is remarkable (see three photos down for a specimen at RBG).  In 2010, the variety 'Red Dragon' was introduced from Oregon State University.  This variety looks identical to 'Red Majestic' to me although it is thought to be the most resistant selection to Eastern filbert blight.  Regardless, both 'Red Majestic' and 'Red Dragon' offer the combination of form, function and color in the garden.  Mature height should be similar to the standard selection which still has value as a focal point in any garden!

 Corylus avellana 'Red Majestic' (Olbrich Botanical Gardens, Madison, WI)
 same as above
Corylus avellana 'Red Majestic' spring coloration
 Corylus avellana 'Red Majestic' at Morton Arboretum (Lisle, IL)
 Corylus avellana 'Red Dragon' at RBG

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