A Special Plant Named for a Special Man

Sometimes you just want to add 'sizzle' to a landscape. Especially in winter.....

This is what I wanted for a front entry walk that I was designing for a client. The plants I specified were common ones for my Northeastern woodland part of the world: rhododendron, azaleas, white birch trees and shadbush (amelanchier clumps).

They looked all great but I wanted the front door area to have something that gave it some 'punch' in winter.  So I planted the show stopping 'Harry Lauder's Walking Stick' (Corylus avellana' Contorta') to add some spice to an otherwise staid scene.

This tree, a Filbert variety, is known for its unusual twisted twigs and branches that give the whole plant a contorted appearance. It is actually a large shrub, growing up to 15 feet high and wide. In winter, the curly branches of the Walking Stick are truly delightful and make the entire tree appear as a work of sculpture.

During the growing season, the leaves have a crinkly appearance, but do not have the same impact as the branches and twigs. In March, the catkin flowers hang down like little ornaments. 'Harry', as I call it, grows slowly, tolerates part sun and is adaptable to many soils. It is a wonderful feature in a small garden. There is even a red variety, Red Majestic,  as shown here.

(Corylus avellana Red Majestic - courtesy White Flower Farm)

The tree got its name from a popular Scottish vaudeville comedian, Harry Lauder, who used a polished and bent gnarly cane in his show. When his only son was killed during World War I, Harry traveled to the front trenches and, with his crooked stick, performed his funny songs to raise the morale of the wounded and fighting men.

He also raised one million dollars (quite a sum back then!) to help the returning veterans. Because of his bravery and generosity, he was knighted Sir Harry in 1919.

The tree, which had been discovered in an English hedgerow in 1863, was later named in tribute to Sir Harry and his walking stick.

I should note that Harry Lauder's Walking Stick is very susceptible to Eastern Filbert Blight, a fungus indigenous to the Northeast of the U.S. If you live in the northeast  be prepared to treat it as a shortlived wonder because it will eventually succumb to the blight - at which point you must dispose of it!   

Also, Japanese beetles can be a problem...but if you deal with them as you do with roses you can control it...

but still, in all, the beauty of 'Harry' in winter is unsurpassed.....and his generous spirit lives on.


  1. Wow, what a cool history! Those catch my eye whenever I visit the garden center...I had no idea who it was named after, I would have never guessed :)

  2. A tree that looks as good in winter as in summer is quite a find for those of us who live in the Northeast, where trees only have their leaves for half the year. Also, thanks for the history...I always wonder how plants get their names

  3. Great story and history lesson. I love the tree...very cool!

  4. You got me hooked on the red variety ... took me a while to warm up to these but I will be adding here in NJ for winter interest next season ... thanks for the info!

  5. I am thrilled that you will try the red majestic....they add an interesting accent to a scene....a tree for all seasons...


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