Male grey catkins of Garrya elliptica
Garrya elliptica autumn catkins

Often overlooked among the shrub benches of garden centres, and generally only known to those truly passionate about their plants, Garrya elliptica is an extremely attractive ornamental shrub noted for its impressive autumn display of oversized catkins. Hence its common name of 'Silk Tassel Bush'.

Native to the coastal ranges of California and southern Oregon, it is an evergreen species with a number of notable cultivars, the most popular of which are Garrya elliptica 'James Roof' and 'Evie'.

It has an erect habit, which under favourable conditions can reach a height of approximately 3 metres although individual specimens have been recorded as being as high as 5 metres. It produces thick, leathery, grey-green, evergreen leaves. On male forms the flowers grow in decorative, grey-green catkins which can be up to 25 cm long!

Close up image of gray Garrya elliptica catkins
Garrya elliptica autumn catkins
It is of particular use in the suburban garden as it is both suitable for both full sun and shaded positions. That being said, outside of the mildest regions of the United Kingdom it will need to be planted in a sheltered position otherwise it can be prone to leaf scorch. This is a particular issue in areas which experience strong winds and extreme conditions. To maintain good conditions it is best planted against the shelter of a south or west facing wall, you can even go further and train it as a wall shrub. This then makes it much easier to protect it under extreme cold and freezing conditions by using horticultural fleece.

New plants are best planted in the spring so that the root systems can establish before the following winter. To be on the safe side it is usually good practice to provide 1st season specimens a winter protection of bracken or horticultural fleece. In the milder regions of England and Ireland winter protection will not be necessary after the first year except during unseasonably cold conditions.

Garrya elliptica will perform best when grown in a reliably moist yet well-drained soil with an approximate pH of 6-8. Even when established it is worth watering during periods of drought as this can cause the appearance of leaf spots in response to the environmental stress. That being said damaged leaves will usually be dropped in the spring and any sparsely leaved stems will soon become hidden by the new growth. In its natural habitat Garrya elliptica has proven to tolerate moderately heavy clay soils, just beware that it will perform poorly in environments which experience wet, freezing conditions.

Be aware that Garrya elliptica does not transplant easily and resent any root disturbance. Large, established should never be moved unless the intention is to throw away.

Strongly growing specimens may need to be pruned back to a suitable size for the garden but otherwise pruning is unnecessary other than to remove dead, diseased or dying stems or those which have produces excessive, straggly growth. To maintain the year on year effect of the catkins, aim to prune in the spring as the old catkins lose their ornamental value, but before the new foliage emerges.

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