There are a number of plants that I grow just for fun.  In this article I have listed three:


          Very little shade, no beautiful flowers, you can’t wear it, you can’t eat it, but flower arrangers drool over this shrub: ’Henry Lauders Walking Stick’, or corkscrew filbert (Corylus contorta). It grows in full sun or light shade in slightly alkaline soil like we have here in Lincoln.  Sometimes called the ‘contorted filbert’ for its branches which grow in any or all directions.  Other members of its family do produce small filbert nuts but ‘contorta’ has yellow catkins in the spring hanging gracefully from its many twisted branches.

          People seeing one in summer sometimes mention that it looks ill as even the leaves tend to twist somewhat.  They grow so thickly that the stems are not noticed until they drop their leaves.  Then winter, and the shrub puts on a show with all those bare branches headed in every direction.  Snow makes it look even more dramatic.  Now in Spring, add hundreds of three inch yellow-brown catkins to those turns!

          If you buy a plant be sure to watch it carefully for suckers.  Many of the plants are grafted and the donor root will send up its suckers in an ordinary straight-up fashion.  I like to prune mine in late winter or early spring so that each branch can be seen.  I cut them off, let them drop in the path and wait for Hope Robb to dash over and collect those curls for her bouquets. 

           2. ‘PURPLE SMOKE BUSH’

          Another plant is the ‘Purple Smoke Bush’ (Cotinus coggygria).  It has better coloring in full sun but will grow in light shade.  They do not become huge shrubs usually as they look better if pruned back every year or so to thicken up the clump.  The “smoke” is the effect of blooming.  The flowers are small and the fruits are inconspicuous but the panicles are long and from a distance do look like smoke.  Across the street from me is one that just barely tops the lower ridge of their house.  The grayish purple smoke against the dark bricks is gorgeous.  In a bad winter, they may winter kill to the ground, but comes up in the spring from the roots.

           3. ‘FRINGE TREE’

          Another small tree (or you can make it into a shrub) that I have wanted for many years is the ‘Fringe Tree’ (Chionanthus virginicus).  I finally found one two years ago.  It is only 5 feet high but is also 5 feet wide and bloomed this spring! It really is a ‘Fringe Tree’, i.e. the blooms come before the leaves and the petals droop downward like fringes on every branch.  Books tell me that boy trees and prettier than girl trees, so I must have a boy! It was solid white (no leaves yet). Girl trees have small black or bluish purple berries later.  Some authors say that some of the trees may have both types of blooms.

          ‘Fringe Trees’ are small- never more than 25 feet tall and just as wide.  They are among the last trees or shrubs to wake up in the spring, so don’t declare yours dead.           Directions say it likes slightly acid soil so I’m borrowing from my azalea and rhododendrons horticultural sulfur granules to keep it happy.

           Now since those three are doing well, my “want“urge is growing again.  Perhaps the next addition will be a ‘Tricolor Beech’ (Fagus) or a ‘Cut Leaf Japanese Maple’ (Acer palmatum). The ‘Tricolor Beech’ is said to be marginal here in Lincoln but there is a very beautiful one on Calvert Street between 38th and 39th.  It is an understory tree and the leaves are tri-color.  The ‘Cut Leaf Japanese Maple’ is also usually an understory tree. My biggest problem is---“Where will I put them?”

Dec. 4, 2004