01 March 2009

Jodi's Gotta-Have Plants, Pt. 2: Which Witch(hazel) is Which?


March has come in, not like a lion or a lamb; just a grey, nondescript day. But that puts us almost halfway through FARCH, and that's reason enough to celebrate by talking about favourite plants.

Some years back, my longsufferings spouse and I were traipsing through Pine Grove, a marvelous park established and maintained by Bowater Mersey in Milton, near Liverpool on Nova Scotia’s south shore. We were coming across a clearing when I caught a fragrance on the air, sweet as honey. We couldn’t figure out where it was coming from until I discovered a modest shrub, leafless of course, but festooned in these spidery flowers with stringy petals of orangish-gold. It was a witchhazel, of course, and there began my love affair with these easy-care, handsome shrubs. 


(photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons)
Witchhazel belongs to the genus Hamemelis, and there are five species native in North America, with only one, H. virginiana, being native in eastern Canada. It’s considered a shrub, generally ranging from 15-20 feet in height and spread. What’s interesting about the native species is that it flowers in autumn, generally between October and December, with stringy-petalled flowers that are generally yellow but occasionally tinted with red or orange. The petals look like crumpled streamers of crepe-paper, and while they aren’t beautiful, they usually have a lovely fragrance.


Hamamelis mollis is the Chinese witchhazel, and said to be the most fragrant species. It’s much used in gardening and landscaping in milder climates but generally isn’t hardy below-15 degrees Fahrenheit, at which point bud damage can occur. Sadly, I don't remember where I got this photo or what cultivar this might be.


Where H. mollis comes in handy is as a cross with the Japanese witchhazel, H. japonica, resulting in hybrids generally classified as H. x intermedia. These tend to flower in mid-late winter or early spring, depending on where you are and how buried in snow your plants get. Some of the more spectacular flower colours are in the Intermedia hybrids, including 'Ruby Glow' (above photo); 
'Jelena' is also sometimes labeled as 'Copper Beauty'. I haven't gotten my mitts on one of these yet, in part because I find them regularly priced much higher than you might expect. And of course in containers, they flower early in the season, often before garden centres even put their stock out, so you have to be prepared to live for a year or so without flower display, at least in my cool neck of the woods.

The first one I plan to purchase this year is 'Arnold Promise', and part of the reason for that is the foliage colour in new growth, seen here on a plant from the Nova Scotia Agricultural College Rock Garden in Truro, NS. 

The flowers are yellow and can be very profuse, and according to the good people at the Missouri Botanical Garden, the fragrance is quite wonderful. I know scent can be highly personal, but I am very fond of the scent of witchhazels and would happily have them everywhere in our garden. 


Witchhazels make fine specimen plants and provide us with four season interest; the Intermedia hybrids flower from winter into spring, summer foliage is handsome, and fall colour can be spectacular. Most importantly, witchhazels are easy-care shrubs, seldom bothered by diseases or insects, and requiring minimal pruning other than to remove suckers if you don’t want your plants to spread or if they are grafted onto hardier rootstock.

My witchhazel is 'Diane' (seen flowering in the top photo) and she has routinely been buried in snow this winter, and even had one session of being encased in ice earlier in the winter. 

While others are already enjoying their witchhazels in bloom, I have yet to even find Diane, although she is slowly emerging from snow after the melt we had on Friday and yesterday. But that just means I get to enjoy other gardeners' plants until mine is ready to flower. 

Which will happen one of these days. Spring does always come.

34 comments:

  1. I've been hearing a lot about the Witch Hazel trees Kylee did a post on her Witch Hazel. Very neat looking and different.

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  2. Love the witch hazels. All of them. Your Diane is looking mighty sunny and will come out soon.

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  3. I think Diane is a beauty! All witch hazels that I've seen so far are lovely - especially since they are early bloomers - but I think I prefer the red ones. One of these days, I'm going to invite Diane into my garden...
    Katarina

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  4. Lovely photos. I just wish I could smell them too.
    Your comment on March coming in like a lion/lamb has just reminded me of the phrase. It was very lamb like today, so I shall look forward to an 'exciting' end to the month!

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  5. I think they're all beautiful, but I'm really struck by that "Copper Beauty"! Thanks for all the good info, and here's hoping that the start of snow and ice pellets qualifies today as a lion! :)

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  6. Hi Jodi, I am glad you showcased the witch hazel... They are delightful trees...and more keep popping up in the trade! I've just found a cultivar of H vernalis (Ozark Witch Hazel) that has amethyst blooms and is of course named "Amethyst". She's a beauty. If she is still at the nursery next week, I may have to find a spot for her in the garden...She will join the other H vernalis and a Diane! They do perfume the garden on warmer days. Can you have too many? I am hoping that March decides to become a lamb and not the lion she's showing us so far. gail

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  7. I wonder if I can grow Witch Hazels here in Northern California...?

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  8. Don't feel too bad, Jodi. My Witch Hazel is in bloom, but it's so cold, the petals are all wrapped up tight, just waiting for a warm day to unfurl. I'm also waiting for that warm day.

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  9. I'm really going to have to find the perfect spot for one of these beauties .. I'm hooked after reading about them so much on here .. and remembering them from Holland : )

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  10. Your post is reminding me that I went through some questions trying to identify our Witch Hazel earlier in this season. Finally gave up and decided that in any case I needed Jelena or Diane... :)

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  11. This is a plant that for some unknown reason I've neglected to add to the garden, but hope to remedy this season. Beautiful!

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  12. Jodi, mine isn't blooming either. I don't have one--blah..sticking my tongue out at cha. You, Gail, and Frances are hounding me to death about a Witch Hazel. I didn't even like them till ya'll started jammering over them all googled eyed and salivating. You make it sound like dark chocolate. Enough already.

    I like the Copper dude. He's my pick. He's probably out the wazoo in price.

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  13. Now just hold up one jolly old cotton pickin' moment....
    "The petals look like crumpled streamers of crepe paper and while they aren't beautiful, they usually have a lovely fragrance".
    Whaddya mean they aren't beautiful?
    They may not be conventional but those ragged strips of colour are gorgeous.
    Wind blessed tatters like the pom-poms of a cheerleader or the tentacles of an exotic sea anemone waving in the gentle currents off a deserted island.
    Or something like that....

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  14. Wish I could grow a beauty like that! The spidery blooms are very showy and these colours are great too! Can't decide which witch is best:)
    Have seen quite a few photos on Blotanical and, like yours, they all looked spectacular.

    Thank you for stopping by my blog. I hope the snow will melt soon...

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  15. Dear Jodi, yes yes yes to a group of witch hazels and you have the room for them too. What a delight. You will be happy with Arnold, I think. He has lived up to the hype here so far, but has only been in the ground a little over a month. Lots of blooms and very fragrant when the sun warms him up. Jelena is next on my list too, but you are so right about that price. Ouch! You made a great advertisement for these wonderful plants, well done!
    Frances

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  16. I had no idea there were so many! The disadvantage to having a small garden is you see so many plants you want and don't have room for...

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  17. Great post on Witch Hazels, Jodi! 'Tis the season, isn't it? Mine is not blooming just yet, although it's been a couple of days since I checked. The sun is out en force today, although it's very cold (10 degrees F at the moment). I'll go out in a bit to check it again.

    Mom and I saw one in full, luscious bloom at the Home & Garden show on Friday. I took photos of the blooms up close, and will be posting one today, when I finally get my post on the show finished.

    'Diane' --- WANT!!

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  18. Oh Jodi, how can you tease me so, this morning? I was going to comment on the red one, then I thought, no-I love this yellow one better; but then, oh...this one, that one...!! Wow, what a selection, I didn't even know there were that many varieties! It's snowing like CRAZY here today. Mother Nature has got her wires crossed I think!

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  19. Chris down river in Stewiacke02 March, 2009 11:01

    Hi jodi;

    As I read your post about witch hazel, freezing rain is streaming down and there's about half an inch of ice built up on everything here, which is sort of up river from you. A shrub which might be blooming right about now? How intriguing! Here's hoping enough rain comes later to clean off the ice, but not too much to flood everyone out! lol, chris

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  20. Jodi, I discovered with hazels last year probably due to Frances or Gail. I promptly brought home 'Arnold Promise' and he is just starting to bloom. Excellent plants. Amazing honey scented flowers. Could we ask for more in the dead of winter?~~Dee

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  21. I have yet to get a witch hazel in my garden. I don't know why. They are so intrigueing. I will I will do it yet. These pictured are so beautiful. I too will never forget seeing one in the wild on a cold winter day and wondering what in the world it was, now I know.

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  22. I adore witchhazel and can't believe I don't grow even one of these beauties. Shame on me! After 33 years of gardening in this spot, I've run out of room (well, kind of ... the beds keep edging out ... hum). Keep the chocolate handy, jodi ... only the F is gone in Farch!

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  23. I've been envying witch hazels on others' posts for a long time now, Jodi. Thanks for all the helpful information--if a species can survive your winters, then it ought to make it in my garden!:)

    I enjoyed your last post on houseplants. I used to have quite a few, but as I became busier and busier, they grew more and more neglected. Now I don't have any except an Arizona agave that doesn't mind a forgetful caretaker. And I can understand why that Gerbera daisy jumped into your cart; I can never resist them either, even though they rarely last for me.

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  24. Great informative post. I love witch hazel - and we don't have any in this garden - so it is one of my must have plants - but I am still trying to decide which one!

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  25. Hi Jodi, great post on the witch hazel. I finally found the time today and actually got through your '06 posts. I love learning about the gardener's history and yours is wonderful. I especially loved the story of Marilyn's butterfly garden! You're lucky to be near that Daylily farm...my newfound passion! I've read stories about Steve Moldovan so it was interesting to read that post. OH, I now HAVE to grow some blue poppies. Thanks, Jodi.
    Lynn

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  26. Another plant to give consideration on placing in my limited garden.I love any plant that does dual purpose flower and fragrance.......

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  27. Jodi, In case you liked Hamamelis vernalis "Amethyst" enough to add it to your wish list, the hardiness zone is 4a...that may still be too tender for NS.

    gail

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  28. A way cool shrub, love the colors. I wonder if it would grow in rocky clay soil?

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  29. I lean toward Diane's pretty color, but I love Arnold's too. I'll be keeping my eyes open to find a witch hazel for my garden too. They're quite an investment! Meanwhile, I sure am enjoying the show on everyone else's blogs.
    That Copper Beauty is aptly named - she's a real beauty!

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  30. Jodi, At least you HAVE a witchhazel!! Thanks for a nice posting of the different cultivars of the witchhazel.
    Janet

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  31. So much talk on all the blogs about a plant that I find fascinating and beautiful. I just don't know if it will work in my garden It looks like it needs space and lots of sun.

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  32. Hi Jodi, I love witch hazels too although I don't grow them in my space-challenged yard.

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  33. Now I know the name of this mysterious tree. I have seen the yellow one in Mystic,CT - left a very deep impression since it was flowering in the freezing weather.

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  34. Witch hazels are so beautiful. I really want the native one but my urban garden can't accomodate another shrub (or can it...). I was just boning up on my shrub and tree cultivar knowledge and got a look at those colourful witch hazels but I think they were all borderline or not hardy here. Shucks.

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