Very few of us can honestly say we look better naked. Fabric is a true and loyal friend, and that bond grows ever stronger as we age.
This week I have been pondering such truths as I stared unashamedly at my friend Harry Lauder (or rather his walking stick) from my bedroom window, and realized that the nakedness I have savored for four years now is swiftly coming to an end. This five foot shrub, once mostly dead, has finally recovered from the stress of transplanting, soundly re-sprouted from a point above the graft union, and now shocks me with the indignity of leaves.
But just as the Hugh Jackmans of this world (or is Chris Pratt these days?) should legally be made to wander the earth short of shirt and trousers, the contorted filbert is a shrub best suited to a naked life. Its twisted branches and vase like shape make it a perfect specimen for dramatic impact in late fall and winter.
Very few of us can honestly say we look better naked.
And in earliest spring, when delicate two inch yellow catkins hang suspended from light grey tendrils, the effect is more than dramatic – it is magnificent. That such things should exist in a garden – AH!
Yet much like other filberts, the leaves are coarse when they come, and seem incongruous in a shrub that elevates floral nudity to an art form. The effect is much like throwing a heavy rumpled blanket over Rodin’s The Thinker during the height of touring season.
And woe to the gardener who crowds their shrubs. Unless you have created exceptional foliage contrasts in burgundy or gold, or provided some sort of sharp vertical accent, the effect will be messy. This is a shrub best left as a specimen at the edge of a path or at the corner of a slightly elevated stone wall.
There are others that share this state of clothing as catastrophe. Sycamore is a white winter monarch, but swiftly disappears into the summer woodlands. Poncirus, the hardy orange, is a thorny, contorted beauty in deep green which is lessened by non-descript leaves in spring (though redeemed by tiny oranges in fall). And who cares to notice yellow or red-twigged dogwood on summer walks through the garden? Even if you were determined, you’d be hard pressed to pick them out against a sea of green.
We delight in each of these winter blockbusters as the fall reveals form and color, and sigh deeply when spring brings the mediocracy of foliage, but the alternative would be foolish. January must have a few ups for all of the punishing downs.
Over the last four years in this new garden I never cut my filbert back – even during what appeared to be total death. Instead we threw uplights under it for winter evenings. The cats used it as a wildly complicated climbing tree. I wound a couple of homeless clematis on it – one for spring and one for summer. Winter aconite bloomed at its feet in February, forget-me-nots in May. It was the perfect bit of organic garden sculpture and never lost my affection. At one point I considered painting it in a bright glossy blue, but thankfully reconsidered before I could be tried and convicted by members of my snobbier garden clubs. There was no need to gild this particular lily.
And now, much to my chagrin, it is gilding itself. I have used the old branches to provide support for the new ones – guiding them into equally complex poses that will delight the eyes in winters to come. In doing so, many of the old branches (now covered in lichen and florescent forms of jelly fungi), snap off in my hands and remind me that my days with this beautiful sculpture were numbered.
Yes. It is all for the best I know, but still there is regret.