Through winter, flowers get battered down by storms, and berries fall or are eaten by wildlife. But brightly coloured stems and contorted twigs resist anything nature hurls.
Finding colour and twisty twigs together in one plant family is quite unusual. But it does happen in hybrids of the corkscrew willow (Golden Curls and Scarlet Curls).
Both are easy to grow, and if kept small, are quite spectacular, whether lashed by rain or festooned with snow. They're also great decorating material for Christmas.
It's better to prevent these two willow hybrids from growing too large, because the twisted twigs, whether golden or orange-red, are brightest when young. At tree-size, the twigs become plain brown twisty branches, bright only at the tips.
Also, willows grow so quickly that tree branches are soon out of reach. Pollarding (pruning all or most branches close to the trunk) keeps brilliant, healthy new growth coming, and keeps the tree within bounds. This should be done soon after the New Year, while buds are still dormant.
Willows are much better neighbours if kept small. That's because willows have weak, shallow roots, drop older branches and shed lots of twigs each winter.
Acreage gardens are the place for large willow trees. In large gardens, people can enjoy the beauty of their twigs against the sky. Willows are also so greedy for water that they can turn marginal swamps into something one can walk on.
Contorted hazels (Corylus contorta) are more widely planted than corkscrew willows and much more tightly twisty. In winter they are intricately beautiful, especially since masses of little catkins begin forming in late November.
It's a slow starter, but ultimately needs considerable pruning to stay within its space. Artistic relatives and friends usually like receiving bits, plus pruned branches make fantastical prisons for leaning plants.
In summer, corkscrew hazel is a nondescript mass of curly green leaves, but meanwhile, it is making little nuts that attract blue flashes
of stellars jays in late August. Most are grafted, and they do tend to sucker when the rootstock is stimulated by too much pruning.
All the suckers will be straight.
If you luck into an own-root contorted hazel, all suckers will be corkscrews. That means you can prune
to your heart's content without having to deal with suckers.
Contorted hazel can be kept indefinitely in a container, top-pruned, and root-pruned every few years. Keeping it on pot feet is best because roots can easily make their way through drainage holes.
I was in a garden once and noticed an imposing row of very tall cotoneaster shrubs, all in smallish pots and planted in a straight line unusually close together near the front door. They were a mass of pretty red berries, but also view-blockers. It turned out they began life as seedlings, one to a pot. Time moved on, and so had the roots, which found their own escape routes. Now there's no moving them.
Anne Marrison is happy to answer garden questions. Send them to amarrison@ shaw.ca
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