(Coast)Silk Tassel Bushes or Garrya elliptica are a very unusual plant to come across. The first time I saw one I was thrilled, I had never paid attention to the rather boring ungainly shrub located at the top of the long perennial border at Playfair Park in Saanich. It was early in the year and I knew that this garden had a wonderful collection of Rhododendrons which I wanted to check on, they were not in bloom yet, instead I found a Garrya.
The first thing I realized on seeing this plant for the first time is that at other times without its catkins I might have thought it was an Elaegnus which has similar leaves but not flowers. Garryas are dioecious meaning they are male or female plants(Holly is another plant like this). They both have long catkins but the males clones are the most prized. Garrya elliptica ‘James Roof’ is the most commonly grown male clone which can have catkins which are up to 12in (30 cm) long.
Garrya ellipticas are true west coasters and don’t like living far from the ocean, this is because there are smaller temperature swings when closer to a large body of water (marine effect). Their range extends all along the coast from southern Oregon through California. There are a total of 18 Garrya species found along the West coast from Washington state through to Panama and east to Texas
Here in Victoria We live in a rain shadow which keeps us drier and warmer than the the British Columbia mainland. We have a very moderate climate which is similar to their native habitat of Chaparral, mixed evergreen forest or coastal Sage scrub. Garryas’ where first found by David Douglas in 1828 and named for Nicolas Garry who was the Secretary of the Hudson’s Bay Company. He assisted Douglas in his explorations in the Pacific Northwest.
Placement of Silk Tassel Bushes here here is a very tricky thing. They like full sun to part shade preferably in mixed deciduous trees and shrubs to show off their winter blooms. The most important thing is to make sure this plant is kept out of the drying burning winds that can occur during a cold snap such as the ones we have during the November to March period. Best placement is bottoms of slopes or beside walls or fences. Another use is as a transitional plant from a naturalised setting into the more structured garden.
Garryas are easy to please, for luxuriant growth they ask for no less than 25 in.(25cm) of rain. They are not very particular to soil and tolerate clays if they are well drained and nutrient rich. They will grow into a substantial 12ft(4m) by 12ft(4m) multi-stemmed shrub which is deer and rabbit resistant. They can be lightly pruned after blooming primarily for shape, do not too far down into the bush. Although these plants can take temperatures as low as 4f(-10c) they prefer a warmer climate. Zones 7 through 10 is recommended.
Lnks to this weeks Subject:
A very informative site about Garryas
Playfair Park in Saanich is one of my favorite parks for great plant specimens. I will be regularly writing about the plants here.
David Douglas, an important plant explorer who introduced many species into cultivation.
Which plant will I write about next week? It’s still a mystery to me, check back on Wednesday for a clue.