If you don’t know it already let me introduce you to Garrya elliptica ‘James Roof’ pictured here.

You may very well be aware of this handsome shrub with its long catkins that look for all the world as though they have been fashioned out of lustrous silk in a most delicate shade of green with, when caught in the light, a sheen of silver. Little wonder then that its common English name is the ‘silk tassel tree’. All the same I doubt whether you own it as it is rare in our gardens. I have admired this garrya for years but it still doesn’t decorate the west wall of Red House where it would be very much at home.

Why isn’t it more widely grown I wonder and why hasn’t it found a place in my garden? I should go searching now for although those long catkins will persist into March this is the time to see them at their best and, incidentally, to check that the garrya I buy is labelled ‘James Roof’. It is named after the Director of a Californian botanic garden and undoubtedly the handsomest cultivar with catkins that reach 20 cm 8 inches in length. For the rest of the year I think you would probably walk past it without much thought although those tough, evergreen leaves clothe this big shrub in a quiet way. Two words of caution if not of warning, although the RHS has given this cultivar an Award of Garden Merit, it also states that it is hardy down to -5c and needs free draining soil. This is perhaps why it is usually described as a wall shrub although I have seen a specimen in a hedge not ten miles away where it towers high above my head offering a positive cascade of those delightful brocaded tassels.

The garrya may have the most spectacular of all catkins but our native hazel runs it a close second. In my garden the hazels are shaking their lambs’ tails in the slightest breeze to send pollen drifting like a golden mist across my garden. If I look very closely I can see what look like fat little buds with bright red stigma peeping out like the tentacles of sea anemones. These are the females that will, if I am lucky, produce cobnuts. However hazels aren’t self-fertile and they rely on the wind to take the pollen and deposit it as far away as possible. Catkins cannot fertilise the flowers on their own tree which, in any case, tend to open a little later. So if you want nuts and don’t have hedgerow hazels nearby, you must plant at least two hazels as a guarantee.

This is always supposing that your main aim is a harvest of nuts for hazels, in themselves, are lovely little trees. With primroses around their feet they bring a breath of country air into a town garden and in the countryside itself they echo the surrounding hedgerows. There are some remarkably pretty hazel varieties, the best known of which is probably Corylus maxima ‘Purpurea’, with leaves of deepest plum purple and pink nuts. Simply lovely.