English tree can give your Halloween an authentic feel

In the Garden with Mr. Bee

October 27, 2011

Hundreds of years ago, Halloween ornaments were displayed throughout Old World landscapes to scare off the unwelcome spirits of deceased relatives that insisted on paying their living relatives a visit on Halloween. But just like today, some of their Halloween displays weren't as frightening as they could have been, because their plant-life backdrops were mundane.

There's nothing particularly frightening about scary-looking Halloween ornaments dangling from or peeking from behind commonplace trees and shrubs.

Harry Lauder's walking stick

For a gardener, then, who's also a Halloween enthusiast and delights in frightening neighbors, you can naturally enhance the fear factor of your displays by putting them on or near landscape specimens that also look scary, such as the ominous-looking tree called "Harry Lauder's walking stick" (Corylus contorta).

Harry Lauder's walking stick, with its twisted and contorted branches, looks like it just stepped out from a horror film. Native to England, it was discovered growing wild during the mid 19th century.

Harry Lauder was a world-famous Scottish entertainer who performed during the early 1900s. He was known for carrying a large cane carved from a contorta's corkscrew-like branches.

Don't let this tree's misshapen looks prevent you from purchasing one, since its eerie-looking trunk and branches are precisely what make it a conversation piece and landscape specimen.

Getting no taller than 10 feet, this winter-hardy, pest-free and drought-tolerant tree grows well in full sun or part shade. It also decorates itself during late winter with 2-inch-long drooping "flowers" (catkins). Even so, it looks best after it loses the leaves that conceal its skeletal structure, just in time to decorate the branches for dead or living Halloween visitors who dare to come calling.

This week in the garden

I've been searching everywhere for a "woolly bear" caterpillar, because I need to see one before I can complete my winter-weather forecast.

Legend has it, you see, that when the black end stripes of a woolly bear caterpillar are thin, the upcoming winter weather will be mild. Conversely, if the black stripes are wide, winter weather will be severe.

In lieu of an accurate forecast, though, I'll play it safe, making certain that our gardening chores get finished on time this fall.

What chores?

Stay tuned.

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