The Silk-tassel is a familiar enough shrub often encountered in the Coastal Ranges of California and southwestern Oregon. We have grown the species for many years in the gardens at Joy Creek Nursery. Although it is a worthy evergreen native shrub that makes a fine background plant in the summer I have often thought that its incredible winter bloom gets lost in the dense foliage.
Six years ago, I bought Garrya elliptica ‘James Roof’ to go into the native plant border at my home. I was pleased that it grew quickly and created a thick screen between me and the driveway next-door even if its habit was ungainly. Branches curved in a drooping fashion back down to the ground. Others twisted themselves around neighboring branches as if they were seeking a way out of the evergreen tangle. Because much of the growth was lateral and downward, I began to contemplate what I could do to encourage upward growth. I wanted to see the tassels drape the shrub like tinsel on a Christmas tree.
Once the shrub had gotten five feet tall, I began to prune it with an eye toward opening it up. My goal was to take out unattractive twisted branches and branches that descended. Because there were so few truly upward growing branches, I did this task cautiously at first. As the shrub matured, I became bolder. Finally early this winter, even though the tassels had already started to form, I began removing all unwanted branches. When I was done, I had an open, airy Silk-tassel that looked nothing like the dense shrub I was familiar with.
By the beginning of February, the tassels began to extend until they reached their full length of 12 to 13 inches which is the characteristic of ‘James Roof’. These tassels often come in terminal sets of five accompanied by two sets of three additional tassels at the leaf axils immediately behind the terminal. The tightly-scaled tassels are grey green at this point but toward the middle of February the scales loosen to reveal tiny flowers so full of pollen that a slight brush of the hand releases a small cloud. ‘James Roof’ is a male clone and does not develop fruit.
To my delight, my pruning worked. The tassels blew in the breeze and did exactly what I hoped for as you can see in the accompanying pictures. By opening up the shrub, and giving it a sense of transparency, I have come to really appreciate the glory of this native. I have become a true believer.