Flowers of the largest of three Vernal witch hazels (Hamamelis vernalis, below) in the garden vary in color each year, from faded and dull to this winter’s yellow that will nearly match the brightness of the hybrid ‘Arnold Promise’ (Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Arnold Promise’) that shows the slightest color as buds swell this third week of January. Regardless of color, the blooms are fragrant, though my olfactory sense is quite dull, so I’m able to enjoy the scent only on the stillest, mildest winter afternoons, or by sticking my nose an inch or two from the small, ribbon-like blossoms. Fortunately, concerns that saturated soils in recent months might delay or damage flowering have proved to be ill founded, though blooms are slightly more scattered than usual along branches of this tall, shrubby tree. Two younger witch hazels in dry shade beneath tall maples are lagging behind, and flowering is questionable. Both were planted to bulk up understory plantings between native spicebushes (Lindera benzoin) at the garden’s edge, both are a good bit on the far side of the property line as evidenced by survey stakes placed for the recent sale of the neighboring farm, and whatever becomes of them is okay.
Oddly, over a period of years, each of the witch hazels purchased was labeled as our native Common witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana), a simple mistake for plants very similar in appearance, but an error easily discovered once flowers appeared in January rather than two months earlier. While I would happily plant a Common witch hazel, I now prefer the January flowering time of the Vernal witch hazel when there are a scattered few other blooms in the garden.