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Nuts - archived information from our old website

This is archived information and not necessarily up-to-date.  There are two accounts about nuts here; Corkscrew Hazel and Excelsior of Taynton Walnut. Links and photos within the text are to our old site and may become broken as we transfer all information across.

Corkscrew Hazel

Contorted HazelCorkscrew Hazel - Corylus avellana Contorta

This hazel is a cultivar of our native hazel, which grows in Europe and into western Asia and north Africa.  It is a natural mutation or ‘sport’, and was first found in a hedgerow on the Frocester Court EstateGloucestershire, in 1863.  The owner or tenant's gardener was friendly with Earl Ducie's gardener and cuttings were sent to the latter. When the owner of Frocester Court next met Earl Ducie he proudly showed him his contorted hazel upon which Earl Ducie said he already had this shrub at home. Apparently, at that time there was tremendous rivalry between the big houses to develop new strains of melons which would be proudly offered at dinner parties. Maybe this rivalry would extend to other fruits like apples (Osterley Pippin) and pears (British Queen), also grapes (Madresfield Court) and pineapples (Lord Carrington) which were named in honour of their estate or its owner.

Meanwhile, Lord Ducie had the contorted hazel layered and cultivated in his arboretum at Tortworth Court.  All true corkscrew hazels are descendants of that original hedgerow plant.  It is either revered or detested by gardeners; it is popular amongst flower arrangers and looks spectacular in winter with its twisted stems, and later in early spring, when it is covered in yellow catkins.  A specimen at The National Arboretum, Westonbirt, reached 9m (30ft) a few years ago, but a good height for this slow-growing tree is normally around 3m (10ft) tall.   It is sometimes labelled in garden centres as Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick.  The trademark for this early 1900s Scottish music hall artist was a twisted walking stick made out of a branch from a corkscrew hazel.

As with hazels/cobnuts, it is easy to grow and thrives in sun or semi-shade, and will grow on any fertile soil, including chalk.  It can withstand prolonged cold, frosty conditions, as well as salt-laden winds, if grown in a coastal location.  The variety is often grafted on to common hazel, so keep an eye out for suckers, pruning them back to ground level during winter.  Contorted hazel is fertile, producing hazelnuts if there is a nearby compatible wild hazel for cross-pollination.  However, many bushes produce few nuts.  The nuts do not breed true – corkscrew hazel must be propagated by layering or grafting.  The plant suffers from few pests and diseases.

Thanks to Tony Russell of Gardeners’ World magazine (Dec 2004 issue), to fruit tree researcher Charles Martell of the Gloucestershire Orchard Group and Meg Game of the Kentish Cobnuts Association

Excelsior of Taynton Walnut

Reference: Mrs Elsie Davies, personal communication (2002)

Status: Extant, critically rare.

Provenance: Originated as a seedling tree found growing at Coldcroft Farm, Taynton, Gloucestershire whence it was propagated. Named by the then Miss Elsie Plowman who entered it for national competition. After winning the competition it was propagated and and returned as young trees for planting at Coldcroft Farm.

Date: Original tree already mature in 1929 so maybe it was seeded before 1900. Named in 1929 when entered for national competition.

Excelsior of Taynton Walnut

In 1929 Mr J.Plowman and his daughter Elsie of Coldcroft Farm, Taynton, Gloucestershire entered a national competition to find the best walnut in Britain. On their farm growing in a paddock called ‘Springfield’ was a walnut tree which produced good nuts. It was nuts from this tree which Elsie carefully selected, packed and sent off for the competition. The competition was initiated through the good offices of Dr H.V.Taylor of East Malling Research Station and was promoted by the Daily Mail. There were over 700 entries in the competition. The winner was the Plowman’s Walnut, which was chosen for its high oil content and hence good keeping qualities. The tree was subsequently named by Elsie: ‘Excelsior of Taynton’. The prize was a magnificent silver cup embossed with a walnut motif. Also two grafts were propagated from the original tree for replanting back at Coldcroft Farm.

Over the years interest waned, the trees were lost (see below), as was Mr Plowman, tragically in a house fire when his silver cup was also believed to have been destroyed.

Recently I learned that Mr Plowman’s daughter - now Mrs Elsie Davies, was still living locally and aged nearly 90. I interviewed her about her story. She was sad to learn that her beloved walnut the ‘Excelsior of Taynton’ was now apparently lost.

That same day I happened to be on the phone to nurseryman Nick Dunn of Frank P. Matthews Ltd of Tenbury Wells. We discussed a recent revival of interest in walnut trees in Britain. During the conversation I mentioned the story above. Mr Dunn stopped me in mid flow to check some papers. Amazingly he had recently been sent a planting plan of a walnut orchard planted in the 1930s or 40s and ‘Excelsior of Taynton’ was on the plan. He had been asked by The Walnut Club of East Malling Research Station to go to the orchard to see if the trees were still there and if so to obtain cuttings and propagate the varieties there. ‘Excelsior of Taynton’ was located and he had three young grafted trees at his nursery. Nick Dunn very kindly gave me one of these young trees for planting back in Taynton. It is believed to be one of only four ‘Excelsior of Taynton’ trees in the world.

The Taynton Society arranged a ceremonial planting of this tree back at Coldcroft Farm, Taynton on Saturday 16th March 2002 by kind permission of the owners Mr and Mrs Goodwin. Mrs Elsie Davies planted the tree herself, getting down on her hands and knees to make sure the job was done properly!

Charles Martell - March 2002

Postscript: April 2002: It has just come to light that the original Excelsior of Taynton tree was removed in 1976 as part of ‘tidying up’ the farm by Mr Garlick on instructions of the owner of the farm at the time.

Autumn 2007:  Mrs Goodwin the owner of Coldcroft reported that the tree produced thirty or so walnuts and they were of excellent quality. ‘Creamy’ was the word used to describe them. Permission sought from Mrs Goodwin for taking cuttings for propagation.

29th January 2008:  Cuttings taken off the above tree and taken to Nick Dunn at Frank P. Matthews for propagation.

1st September 2011: The tree is bearing about 1000 very good sized walnuts showing no sign of dropping yet in spite of a sustained cool and dry period.

22nd September 2011: All nuts down with help.

At the Libation to the Excelsior of Taynton (with apologies to the Wassailers)
Young walnut tree we’ve planted thee
We hope that thou will bear
Hats full, caps full, three bushel bags full
And a little heap under the stairs!
Hip-pip hooray etc.

Excelsior of Taynton Walnut can be ordered from Frank Matthews Ltd:

Berrington Court, Tenbury Wells, Worcestershire WR15 8TH  01584 810214 Fax. 01584 811830

There is currently no photograph of a mature tree.

Planting of this rare Gloucestershire Walnut in memory of Richard Fawcett took place at the Hartpury Heritage Trust Perry Pear Centre on 12 March 2012 by Anna Jones and Alan Watson. Richard was co-founder of the Gloucestershire Orchard Group in 2001 and National Orchard Forum and 2002. He is sadly missed, but his tremendous legacy to traditional orchards, in Gloucestershire and nationally, lives on.

Memorial planting 1

Memorial planting 2

Richard Fawcett memorial


V9 • Created: Fri May 18, 2012 11:26 am • Modified: Fri Jan 24, 2014 5:17 pm • Views: 15908