Flower of the week from YOUR garden to YOUR table:
Botanical Name: Garrya Elliptica. Common Name: Silk tassel Bush.
At this time of the year a new type of flower emerges in our gardens – catkins. A catkin is a pendant spike of scale like bracts that contain tiny flowers hardly visible to the naked eye. They are not as showy as regular flowers and most of them have drab colours but there relative abundance and season of growth – when the garden is particularly barren – gives them a special use for the keen flower arranger. I have quite a choice of trees in my garden that bear catkins, willow, hazel, alder, which can all be used to make an interesting display. However I have chosen the catkins from a bush called Garrya for this weeks ‘flower from the garden’ as it has two distinct advantages 1) it is from an evergreen bush so the twigs have catkins and leaves, 2) the catkins are plentiful and very long.
As my photo shows the common garden name is very fitting as the catkins hang down like tassels all over the bush. We are now just at the beginning of the season – with time they continue to grow even longer. The leaves are a lovely glossy green around 8 cm long but the catkins can easily reach 20cm, the variety ‘Evie’ is said to have tassels up to 30cm. The variety ‘Pat Ballard’ adds a tinge of purple to the normal grey green coloured catkins. ‘James Roof’ bears a RHS Award of garden merit.
Planting and cultivating guide
The bush is not fully frost hardy and maybe that is why it is not so common, however it will withstand temperatures down to -5o so it should overwinter well anywhere in the British Isles lower than Northumberland. Many advise to grow it next to a wall which will give it further protection and avoid the blackening of the leaves during a particularly fierce winter, but I find that they grow happily free standing without protection as the picture shows.
The bush can grow to 3m high, it can be pruned in early summer to a much lower manageable height, but it dislikes hard pruning so do it with compassion!
Like most catkins they are unisexual and if you would like your Garrya to produce fruit (berries), you will need a separate male and a female plant, but as the berries are nothing special or if you only have room for one bush, make sure to buy a male variety as they are the ones that have the longer catkins.
The Garrya is available from The RHS Plant Shop, or from J.Parkers and other specialist nurseries, otherwise try your hand at propagating it although it is not the easiest plant to propagate and that is why it carries a price tag of nearly £20 for a 2 litre pot!
The Garrya arranged in my vase reminds me of the annual Amaranthus viridis (the green love lies bleeding ) which we struggle to grow in our climate during the summer and here we have a parallel bush that grows so easily on its own!