What do I know? I just live here.
Amongst semi-mysterious goings on in the garden, in early October there are two common witch hazels (Hamamelis virginiana, above and below), one that has defoliated completely and the other not at all, and both are flowering. Of course, the blooms on naked stems are much more obvious, and along with defoliating it has also been a week ahead in flowering.
This is early for flowering, and it’s no surprise that one is earlier than the other since soil and light conditions vary, with one in deeper shade. I don’t quite understand why it has dropped all leaves since it is in better ground than the other, though both are in relatively dry shade. But, though I ask the question, it is not necessary that I understand these things, and I’m certain that every gardener would be happy to have their common witch hazels drop leaves before flowering.
Several attempts have been made in recent years to plant this native witch hazel, but two tall, bushy shrubs identified as common witch hazel flowered in January, making it clear that these were Vernal witch hazels (Hamamelis vernalis, below) instead. I’m not complaining, though I would prefer that sources could properly identify their offerings, but in fact, I prefer the January bloom time to October or November, and the Vernal witch hazels dependably drop most all of their leaves prior to flowering. Vernal witch hazels are native just to the far side of our nearby Blue Ridge Mountains, with common witch hazels found on trails my wife and I hike on the eastern slopes and Vernals at the peaks and to the west.
The most prominent of the garden’s Vernal witch hazels had a tough time of it at the start, and while it flowered last winter, I questioned its long term fitness. But, that turned for the better in spring and today there’s not a sign of its early trauma, so it’s good to go from here. This witch hazel replaced one that faded as the lower third of the rear garden remained saturated with an extra thirty-five inches of rain a few years ago. The stump of the old one remains, mostly covered by inches deep needles from three nearby Japanese cedars (Cryptomeria japonica), with the new witch hazel moved a few feet forward in excavated soil that raised the planting area.
The witch hazels were planted primarily for winter flowers, and secondly for fragrance, though it is rare that I can smell a thing. There is an occasional still, mild winter afternoon when the scent from Vernal or hybrid witch hazels permeates the lower half of the garden, but this sensory deficiency does not detract from flowers that span the winter months.