The Wednesday Dig: Plant Profile

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Harry Lauder was a Scottish comedian famous for his biting wit and fierce Scottish pride. He performed on stage for kings and common folk, and during WWI, he took his piano to the French front to entertain the troops amid artillery drops.

He was nighted in 1919 for raising over a million pounds for the war effort and to this day, his songs are anthems for football clubs across England.

What does he have to do with gardening in San Diego? Well the man performed with a famous crooked walking stick made from a contorted filbert tree that is our focus for our first plant profile.

The contorted filbert tree or Corylus avellana is a very odd plant, usually grafted onto the more sturdy roots of a normal filbert tree (Corylus colurna). This small tree generally reaches only 10 feet tall in our climate. During the summer months, it’s covered in dense green leaves that curl and contort themselves into picturesque shapes. Its flowers are long fluffy tails called catskins and are followed by filbert nuts. What really makes this tree awesome however is its corkscrewing branches that become visible when the leaves drop in the fall. This tree truly provides yearlong interest to any garden.

Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick, as it’s now commonly called, is a relatively low maintaintanence plant. Our climate can sometimes be a bit to warm for it so its best to plant it where it won’t bake in the sun but where it can still absorb about six hours of light a day. We have ours planted in a large pot on our patio in well draining soil (a mix of succulent potting soil and Miracle Grow potting soil) and we water it whenever the top inch of soil is dry.

Pruning is relatively unnecessary and I love to see the crazy branches twine around each other. If you do see any small straight branches growing from the base of the tree, they are probably suckers from the root tree and should be removed. San Diego’s truly a wonderful place to garden and this awesome specimen tree will be the highlight of any landscape. Plus, if it gets big enough, you can make a walking stick and start telling jokes in a kilt!

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