Behind Harry Lauder

Scottish-born Sir Harry Lauder supposedly first appeared in his vaudeville career as an Irish comedian. He made twenty-two trips to the U.S. and several to Australia in his career. Lauder was dubbed by Churchill as “Scotland’s Greatest Ever Ambassador.”

Lauder wrote many of the songs he performed, often using Scottish themes or stereotypes in his comedy.

“Sir Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick” (also known as the “Contorta,” “Corkcrew Hazel,” “Contorted Filbert,” “Politician Plant”)  was actually discovered a couple decades before Sir Harry.  According to Dayton Nurseries:

Corylus avellana 'Contorta'.jpg (23302 bytes)Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick was discovered growing in an English hedgerow in the mid-1800s.  This deciduous, twisted stemmed shrub usually grows to just 8-10′.   The species is commonly grown commercially for nut production but this cultivar usually does not produce nuts.  The light green leaves turn yellow in fall.   The branch form becomes quite noticeable in winter after leaf drop and provides great winter interest.   Twigs are used by florists in flower arrangements.

Finding what I think is a well-priced Harry ( twenty-five bucks),  I’ve just planted a Harry Lauder in my shade garden. Its twisted branches offer a sculptural contrast in the fall and winter, while hanging chartruse seed pockets give a unique look when most other perennials hybernate.  In most cases, three-gallon Contorta’s (the smallest you can usually buy) cost between forty and sixty dollars. However, when the leaves are wilting and the plant goes dormat, you can find a cheap Harries for yourself in the fall.

A Harry Lauder from Landscapedia.Info
A Harry Lauder from Landscapedia.Info

Hedging Our Bets

For two years, we’ve been wanting to put in a hedge in our front yard,  but a huge privet and dying dogwood stood in the way. (The privet engulfed a cherry tree that’s now seeing daylight for the first time in a couple seasons.)

We decided to plant eleven Sweet Olives along the south side of the house.

Before and After:

What we hope it’ll grow into:

Sweet Olive Hedge
Sweet Olive Hedge

Plants Cannot Fight Back

It should go without saying that plants cannot, in fact, fight mammals. Sure, some South American plants are carnivorous; poison-ivy is a nasty, nasty vine; and, there’s a good chance that the Spanish Inquisition was overseen by a rose bush, but that’s beside the point. Having pets or children will influence what’s planted in your yard and what plants are potted in your house.

For the backyard, look for dense, hardy shrubs like hollies, junipers, acuba, mock orange, even anise bushes (plants thrive in zone 7). Some heirloom tea roses also make for good garden shrubs, but they may lack the large blooms of the more popular knock-out roses. Still, survival is key. To soften and add interest to the space, plants like Pachysandra, Ajuga, Lenten Rose, Yucca and Nandina can be great resources. Some bulbs also weather well, like iris and daylilies.

In the house, also choose hardy plants like snake plants and succulents (soft to the touch but tough growers). For a unique hanging plants, look at the Davallia (Hare’s Foot Fern).

Cast Iron Plant (great for indoors or outdoors)

Hostatopia 0.9.2

The hostas in my garden are starting to disappear for the season. The plants from Iowa, especially, are fading fast because they’re not acclimated yet. Still, I grabbed some images in August of this year’s new favorites.

(Top to bottom, left to right: Reverse Patriot, Patriot, Paul’s Glory, Krossa Regal, Gold Edge, Fragrant Bouquet, Northern Exposure, Love Pat,  Rainforest Sunrise, Pineapple Juice, Dragon’s Tails,  Frances Williams.)

End of Another Season

It’s the end of another summer growing season, and it’s time for fall planting. Today, I added a “Gold Standard” hosta to my new garden bed, and I’m prepping the spot a few feet down for three oak leaf hydrangeas. Many big box garden departments (Lowes’, Home Depot, Walmart) stop getting shipments of plants in early September, even though fall is one of the best times to plant (especially in hot climates). Sure, the plants don’t look as nice as they do in spring, but getting them to take root over the winter allows for healthy, established plants in only a few months.

I’ve only been gardening for a few years in Atlanta, Georgia. My husband, Micah, and I bought a cottage three years ago that had a backyard comprised of a dog kennel, two water oaks with ingrown dog chains, a dilapidated toolshed, and a “slabio” (a makeshift patio created from concrete slab that was once the foundation for a long-gone kitchen). We demolished what we could and tried to hide what we couldn’t. The first plant I introduced to our yard was an heirloom rose bush, quickly followed by two camillias. Micah asked why they were planted haphazardly in the middle of a clump of grass, and I soon realized that to sucessfully garden, it’s a good idea to have a clue about what you want. After that, we built a garden bed, then another, and another…

We’ve got ten beds now in the backyard, including a veggie garden, rose bed, raspberry bed, and five shade beds for native ferns, azaleas and speciman hostas. Between beds, I’ve been laying down paths using as much egg rock as a Toyota Corolla can carry. (The gardens’ 80+ bags of mulch were shoveled and carried in landscaping bags from a mulch pile that a tree service dumped down the street– ironically, next to a “No Dumping” sign.)

This is my “Sum and Substance” hosta. I got it from a hosta grower in Iowa right after the 2008 floods. (She had a yearly stock of hostas and no locals buyers because of the widespread flooding.) Behind that is a Japanese maple, cast iron plants, Micah, and a number of lenten roses, hostas, autumn ferns, and very small camellias. Every week, we go to our local Lowe’s and Home Depot to browse plants, and every week the big box employees– Tall Bob, Old Bob and Other Bob– direct us to the same hydrangeas, acubas and leatherleafs we saw before. We visit our local Pike’s Nursery and Grower’s Outlet, but find plant selections to be overpriced and underwhelming. With all these stops, we’re running low on gas and out of options beyond the twenty tried-and-true perennials and shrubs available everywhere. After just a couple years of playing in the dirt, I can drive by any garden bed in Atlanta and identify the plantings– azalea, juniper, hawthorne, nandina, mondo grass. In Atlanta winters, pansies are planted for color. By summer, they’re traded out for begonias. A golden grass coupled with some cacti sometimes can break up the endless hedge of green shrubs, but options here seem slim even when living in verdant Atlanta: the City in the Forest.

As I build my garden, I’ve realized I can’t do it alone. I want a place where I can buy plants not sold at Home Depot, and grown by people interested more in creative gardening than bottom-line revenue streams. I’ve found some fellow gardeners on Dave’s Garden and Backyard Gardener, but there’s still no easy site to show and sell homegrown plants. Why not?