Archive for the ‘Winter’ Category

Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick

Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’

Young Harry Lauder with his walking stick

An oddity.
This twisted shrub is named for Scottish Vaudeville stageman [Harry Lauder] (b. 1870, d. 1950), who often performed with a gnarled walking stick.

Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick (also simply called contorted hazelnut or contorted filbert), is a non-fruit bearing cultivar of the common hazelnut or filbert. Its parent, Corylus avellana, is the species grown commercially for edible nuts.


The shrub itself grows in a spreading clump about eight to twelve feet high if left to its own devices. The deciduous leaves a broad and fuzzy with a serrated margin. Small, yellowish flowers bloom in early spring before the leaves come in.

It shines in winter. After the foliage drops, the corkscrew character of the branches takes center stage. In late spring and summer, reproductive catkins hang in dusty clusters along the branches and remain through much of the winter. It’s definitely a great specimen plant and fun to sneak into otherwise innocent-looking shrub borders.

There are quite a few of these around Raleigh, but the pictures featured in this post come from the plants at J.C. Raulston Arboretum.

Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’ in early April












And here’s one of Harry Lauder’s most famous songs, “Roamin’ in the Gloamin’”, from a 1911 release:

Witch hazel

Sunday, February 22nd, 2009

hammelis_x_intermedia2_sunburst_feb2009I love witch hazels. This very small tree or shrub boasts at least two native species, Hamamelis virginiana and H. vernalis. They typically have yellow to orange or red flowers in the early spring and winter. The flowers usually bloom before the leaves, so yellow branches stand out with their four-petaled flowers and red calyxes. Many varieties (often derived from the hybrid H. X intermedia) sport multi-colored or extra-long petaled flowers. There’s a beautiful example of H. X intermedia ‘Sunburst’ in the J.C. Raulston Arboretum. There’s a [full-res version] of a photo I took of the flowers that I’m using as a desktop background.

Michael Dirr (of the [Manual of Woody Landscape Plants]) recommends planting witch hazels together with early-flowering cherries (like the carmine-colored Prunus campanulata varieties) for a “splashy” winter display.

After leafing, witch hazels retain their red calyxes. The leaves are obovate, a little asymmetrical, and dark green with sinuous margins. The plants themselves tend to prefer a more moist environment and tolerate most light conditions. Fall leaf color is yellow.

hammelis_x_intermedia1_sunburst_feb2009Witch hazel probably received its name from a homophonic Middle English word for bendy or pliable and not from “witch” as we know it today. Witch hazel is not closely related to actual hazels, but they were both used as [dowsing] or water-finding rods (or divination rods, witching rods, or water-witching rods). Because hazel was a preferred dowsing rod in English, the American plant also became known as hazel. Dowsing is still practiced today but the preferred rods are reportedly made of brass.

Extracts and infusions of witch hazel bark, leaves, and stems have long been used for their high tannin content and astringent properties. I’m looking for more good documentation, but it was reportedly used by indigenous Americans as well as European colonists. There are numerous references on the internet to preparing your own extracts, tinctures, infusions, and distillations of H. virginiana, none of which I’ve personally tried or advocate. However, it’s one of the remaining herbal extracts that is approved as an over-the-counter drug (and not just an herbal supplement) by the [FDA] as a skin protectant and anorectal treatment.

whazelmedWhen I asked my mom about witch hazel, the first thing she said was, “Oh! I can smell it now.” She said her grandmother always had a bottle and they “put it on everything–witch hazel and calamine lotion.” This traditional remedy for cuts, scrapes, and insect bites is still sold in drug stores today. I’m on the younger end of my twenties so I think I may have missed witch hazel’s heyday. I went to the Rite Aid in Cameron Village to search out a bottle to apply to a mild burn on my hand. There was an 86% witch hazel extract in alcohol so I bought that. Witch hazel is also the active ingredient in Preparation H wipes but I didn’t require a hemorrhoid treatment (though it can be used to treat irritation from vaginosis as well).

whazelmed4Anyway, it seems to be soothing. There was an immediate cooling effect (probably from the evaporation of the alcohol) but the pain is noticeably duller. It may be psychosomatic but if the effect is the same it’s okay in my book. It’s also supposed to be good for perpetually oily skin (like mine) so I’ve applied some after washing my face. I’m worried about the alcohol over-drying my skin, but I used to love the now-discontinued Burt’s Bees Wild Lettuce Toner and that had similar proportions (what I bought is 86 per cent active, 14 per cent inert). At the very least it’ll temporarily minimize my pores.

I’ve also heard [rumors] of people using witch hazel Preparation H wipes on their faces to minimize the appearance of wrinkles and body builders using the wipes to temporarily tighten the appearance of their abs. Some women have also used wash clothes soaked in witch hazel to help minimize the appearance of varicose veins.

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J.C. Raulston Arboretum: Early Spring

Saturday, February 21st, 2009

My cockatiel and I visited N.C. State’s J.C. Raulston Arboretum this Thursdy afternoon to see what’s going on. Besides being a public garden, the Arboretum is used to research, outreach, and plant trials (among other things). It’s free and open to the public and right behind the Waffle House on Hillsborough Street–and I can never say no to waffles and flowers.

Right now there are some showy winter plants and early spring bloomers adding color around the grounds–I took a ton of pictures! I also sought out some old favorites to track as they leaf out and set fruit. I spent I don’t know how many hours there as an undergrad. I’m planning to take pictures at fixed points around the Arboretum so I can see how it changes throughout the seasons.

So many things looked beautiful. Many of the hollies are in full berry and some of the trees (like [this flame willow]) have incredibly striking bark to show off. There are a bunch of pictures up in [this Flickr photoset] but here are some highlights:

<i>Prunus</i> 'First Lady'

Prunus 'First Lady' (flowering cherry)

<i>Pieris japonica</i>

Pieris japonica (Japanese andromeda)

<i>Ilex cornuta</i> 'D'Or'

Ilex cornuta 'D'Or' (yellow berry Chinese holly)

In the Winter Garden

In the Winter Garden

Xeriscape garden

Xeriscape garden

<i>Iris reticulata</i> 'Spring Time'

Iris reticulata 'Spring Time'

<i>Edgeworthia chrysantha</i> 'Winter Gold'

Edgeworthia chrysantha 'Winter Gold' (golden paperbush)

<i>Daphne odora</i>

Daphne odora (winter daphne)

<i>Poncirus trifoliata</i> 'Flying Dragon'

Poncirus trifoliata 'Flying Dragon' (hardy contorted orange)


April is going to be a fabulous month. I’m really excited for the annual trial beds to get into full swing–daisies, grasses, ornamental veggies… It’s a great place in Raleigh to get some new ideas.


Wednesday, January 7th, 2009

Be on the lookout for winter-blooming hellebore species. This typically low-growing, herbaceous perrenial sports showy, petal-like bracts that can persist well into the spring–much longer than its small flowers. Their color spectrum includes greens, creams, and even flushes of red and purple. The foliage is extremely frost-hardy and variable in its generally slender shape and verdance.

Hellebore (Helleborus spp.) also has a lengthy history in folklore. Known alternately as “witch weed” and “Christ rose”, toxic hellebore (active alkaloid: helleborin) has been used in folk healing as well as poison-making. Its frost-resistance and winter blooms were thought to be evidence of magical constitution. Hellebore tinctures were also used as a treatment for “winter melancholy” for this very reason–an original treatment for what we’ve developed as seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

Ingesting helleborin causes diarrhea, vomiting, and nausea–it was never used as a purgurative for the weak, even in antiquity.