Bewitching

The yellow flowered, hybrid ‘Arnold Promise’ witch hazel (Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Arnold Promise’) has struggled through this year. As far as I can see, nothing of consequence has changed in the nearby area to cause the soil to be continually damp, but water has often pooled in the area and the witch hazel objected by dropping its foliage in early October. Flower buds that will bloom in February appear viable, but no doubt there ‘s a problem and I’ll be fortunate if this large shrub allows me a second year to solve this puzzleArnold Promise witch hazel autumn foliage.

Other witch hazels in the garden remain in leaf in early November, and this year their colors are more vibrant than in most autumns. The upright growing Vernal witch hazel (Hamamelis vernalis, below) is on higher ground on the opposite side of the lower garden, and this year it has grown vigorously. In past years I haven’t noticed its color much, but now it is a shimmering yellow in the low afternoon sun.

Vernal witch hazel in early November

When I purchased this as a large shrub it was labeled as the native Common witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana), though I was suspicious from the start because it lacked the distinctive wide spreading form. When it failed to flower in November while leaves were still present, I wrote this off as a result of stress from the transplant, but when small flowers appeared in January the identification as Vernal witch hazel was confirmed.Vernal witch hazel in January

Vernal witch hazel is native to the upper South, west of the Blue Ridge Mountains, which is close enough by definition for many gardeners to claim it as a native in my northwestern Virginia garden. In fact, I question whether Common witch hazel (that can be found at higher elevations within a few miles of my garden) should legitimately be considered a native, but that is an argument for another day. In fact, the common and vernal witch hazels grow quite nicely in this area (native or not) without being troubled by heat or humidity, and certainly without any pest or disease problems.Diane witch hazel in early November

‘Arnold Promise’ is a hybrid, with a spreading, vase-like form that is common to many witch hazels, except for the upright oval shape of vernal witch hazel. In recent years the rust red flowered ‘Diane’ (Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Diane’, above) has bloomed sparsely, but its autumn foliage is superb. It is planted in a bit too much shade, I suspect, and that reduces the number of blooms, though there appear to be more buds today than I’ve seen in prior years.Arnold's Promise witch hazel in mid February

Despite the marvelous autumn foliage colors, the small collection of witch hazels is most treasured for the mid and late winter blooms that fill the lower garden with fragrance on a still winter afternoon. Vernal witch hazel flowers in January, and by the time it begins to fade a month later the hybrids are blooming. This seems just enough to get me through till spring.

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3 thoughts on “Bewitching

  1. Do you have any experience with Hamamelis “Pallida”? The literature says it’s one of the earliest flowering of the Asian witch hazels, and I wonder if your experience backs that up.

    • I’ve planted ‘Arnold Promise’, ‘Diane’, and ‘Jelena’, but not ‘Pallida’. There’s probably more variation due to sun/ shade exposure than by variety from my experience, with all flowering at about the same time in mid February regardless of weather conditions. With three feet of snow on the ground in February I’ve trudged out to see ‘Arnold Promise’ in full bloom, just to confirm that spring is only a few weeks off.

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