Witch hazel for winter show and fine scent
Nobody likes a show-off, but for witch hazels ( Hamamelis) I could make an exception. Each winter deliciously scented blooms emerge on zig-zag stems even in the harshest weather. Stand nearby and you’ll catch a whiff of the sweet, spicy scent; cut a branch for indoors and it will perfume the air for at least two weeks. Close up, the flowers are rather odd in appearance – almost spidery, with ribbon-like petals unfurling from a red calyx. But these butterscotch blooms are spectacular against mostly bare branches in winter, made all the more agreeable for lasting a good five to six weeks. This small tree, growing 3-4m high, is ideal for any garden, including the smaller backyard. It’s robust, surviving cool temperatures by curling up its petals when frosts appear and unfurling them when the sun comes out to warm them. In ample sun and loamy, well-drained soil, these long-lived plants will thrive, but even in less than perfect conditions they’re adaptable enough to still put on a good show. In hot areas they may benefit from some shade from the afternoon sun. They do like a cool root run and would prefer not to be dry. If leaves begin to droop in warm, dry periods, a good watering is on the cards. Mulch the soil to keep it moist. Witch hazels are not easy to grow from cuttings so most forms
Hamamelis ‘Jelena’ produces an autumn show of thick golden leaves. The flowers are clusters of yellow and copper-orange. available are grafted, more often than not onto Hamamelis virginiana rootstock. Hamamelis x intermedia are some of the best witch hazels. These are hybrids between the chinese witch hazel, Hamamelis mollis, and the japanese witch hazel, Hamamelis japonica. Some of the stand-out hybrids include Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Jelene’, Hamamelis x intermedia ’Diane’ and Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Pallida’. ‘Jelena’, one of the loveliest witch hazels, produces clusters of yellow and copper-orange flowers. In autumn, it’s bright green leaves turn red and yellow too, offering another show-off performance during the year. It grows 2.5m-4m high, so it’s well suited to the urban backyard. ‘Diane’ is one of the best reds, with large carmine-red flowers from late winter/early spring. As with all witch hazels, the scented flowers stand out like beacons on bare stems. It, too, has good autumn colour. This hybrid is smaller growing, to 2-3m high. ‘Pallida’ is a popular hybrid with very fragrant, lemon-yellow flowers from late winter. In autumn its leaves turn yellow. It grows 3-4m. Then there is the species Hamamelis mollis, also growing 3-4m high. In his book Trees and Shrubs for Fragrance, Kiwi gardener and horticulturist Glyn Church says this is the best species for gardens, ‘‘with the ability to bloom when very young. Good in the vase or in the garden, the delightfully sugar-scented, rich yellow flowers are much more fragrant than other species.’’ What more could you want from an ornamental tree?
Spindly: Witch hazel blooms are almost spidery, with ribbon-like petals unfurling from a red calyx.