January Witch Hunt

Choosing my top January blooms this year is even easier than previously because, despite their early start, my special snowdrops have slowed down and are at not yet at their peak. A few, like Mrs Macnamara and James Backhouse, have already peaked but still look good, a couple are definitely over, some have barely pushed their noses above the soil but the majority are still poised to open their first buds. Meanwhile, the natives in the woodland edge border are possibly a little earlier than usual and about to come into flower too. So, no, I am enjoying my regular inspections of the snowdrops, but they are not top bloomers this month; neither are the hellebores which are at a similar stage, flowering stems just about pushing through and beginning to open just above ground level. They will be lovely in due course, but not yet:

Chloris who kindly invites us to share our top monthly bloomers has dubbed me the ‘Queen of Witch Hazels’; apart from having twelve of them in my garden I have no idea where she got the inspiration for this title…. Whether it is deserved or not I suspect she is quietly plotting to steal this crown (if it exists) as she likes witch hazels just as much as I do! They are certainly up there with snowdrops and hellebores for bringing colour and interest to the winter garden but this year they undoubtedly reign supreme in my garden this month. Of the twelve, two are not flowering: ‘Pallida’, my smallest and nearly newest (3 years), developed no flower buds during the summer so will not flower  this year, and ‘Spanish Spider’ has buds but shows no wispy signs of opening yet.

Let’s start with the oldest of the others: ‘Zuccariniana’ was bought in 2003 from a garden in Albrighton which held a National Collection of Hamamelis. This garden closed in recent years and the land was sold but I don’t know what happened to the collection. My specimen is a typical urn shape and on measuring it today I can tell you it is 180cm tall by 240cm wide, much wider than it is tall. Bought at the same time is ‘Harry’, my favourite with his extra long shreds and in an enviable position directly outside one of the kitchen windows. He does not flower profusely, but I don’t mind that because he is so handsome. I bought three when I visited this garden, and I think the third must have been Jelena who is an absolute STAR this year. Just stunning!

Hamamelis ‘Zuccariniana’

Hamamelis ‘Harry’

Hamamelis ‘Jelena’

‘Diane’ must have been bought at a similar time but was planted in the woodland where she languished until rescued in the nick of time and replanted in the streamside grass, just facing ‘Jelena’. I learned from this that, contrary to what we may have thought, they do prefer a more open position where they won’t dry out. She is still catching up but flowers well, albeit coming into bloom with her scarlet shreds a little later than some. You may not know that ‘Jelena’ refers to Mrs Jelena De Belder, well-known in horticultural circles for the private garden and public arboretum in Kalmthout in Belgium where she and her husband developed what is now the International Cultivar Registration Authority for witch hazels. ‘Diane’ is her daughter and ‘Harry’ was named for (friend?) Harry van Trier who contacted me after I wrote about ‘Harry’ one year. No doubt there are other family connections.

Hamamelis ‘Diane’

Having time to devote the garden once I finished work in 2011, the others came thick and fast: ‘Ruby Glow’ (possibly) and ‘Orange Peel’ from Crocus, ‘Magic Fire’ and ‘Arnold Promise’ (along with ‘Pallida’) as half price offers from a local garden centre, and in 2014 ‘Amethyst’ and non-flowering ‘Spanish Spider’ from Bluebell Arboretum. I followed ‘Amethyst’ for a number of months as part of a tree-following meme, so can tell you that in May 2015 it was a mere 85cm tall – today it is 165cm!

Hamamelis ‘Ruby Glow’

Hamamelis ‘Orange Peel’

Hamamelis ‘Magic Fire’

Hamamelis ‘Arnold Promise’

Hamamelis ‘Amethyst’

They are slow growing shrubs, but it seems to me that it is worth getting more than just a ‘stick’ to begin with, to ensure you have a decent plant to establish. All these more recent ones were well-shaped plants, perhaps 45-60cm tall in maybe 5 litre pots, and would have cost around £35 some of which I had at half price (other customers used their half price voucher to buy plants that cost just a few pounds; I bought witch hazels). My newest purchase, arriving just before Christmas, was a very much more mature plant and in a different league, costing a three figure sum that not even the Golfer knows; it is no more mature though than H ‘Zuccariniana’ but instead of me nurturing it for all those years, Junker’s Nursery has. Chloris wowed me with a description of ‘Strawberries and Cream’ a couple of years ago and as it is rarely available this seemed the only way to get what I decided (for now) would be the last witch hazel in this garden. It is only just coming into flower now and I hope it lives up to my expectations…

Hamamelis ‘Strawberries and Cream’

So, there we have my top blooms for January: witch hazels. Do visit Chloris’ blog The Blooming Garden where she will in due course be sharing her favourite blooms for this month. Thanks Chloris!

Top to bottom, left to right: Amethyst, Strawberries and Cream, Ruby Glow, Zuccariniana, Magic Fire, Arnold Promise, Jelena, Orange Peel, Diane

Hamamelis ‘Harry’


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41 Responses to January Witch Hunt

  1. I had no clue about the variety in color, gorgeous. Enjoy.

  2. tonytomeo says:

    Oh, we used to grow those, but discontinued them because they were so unpopular here. Maybe I mentioned that already.

  3. A catchy title and an interesting post. Your garden looks lovely at this time of year, and the witch hazels certainly provide colour. I will not be envious, covered as we are in snow… okay, maybe just a bit.

    • Cathy says:

      Winter colour is invaluable, I have come to realise, as is fragrance. And at least in the UK we can generally get out into our gardens throughout the winter if we choose. Hope spring comes soon for you!

  4. What strikes me most about the colours you’ve got (well chosen btw) is the number of pinks/blush tones. I always thought they were all yellow to orange. Quite an eye opener. I’ve bought one or two in the past, but I seem to manage to kill them eventually. 😦

    • Cathy says:

      I do prefer the ones that aren’t yellow, I have to say! Amethyst, which is indeed a pinky amethyst colour, has relatively small blooms so the overall colour isn’t as obvious unless you see it close up, whereas the large glowing shreds of Jelena really stand out at a distance. I killed a few in the early days but am sure it was the drying out that did it and some of them were very spindly sticks to begin with. Do try again…

  5. Christina says:

    I can quite understand why Liz calls you the Witch hazel Queen, absolutely the right nane for you!!!!!!!

    • Cathy says:

      I could say that it’s quality rather than quantity that should count, but they are all doing pretty well so they must like sharing my garden with me… Just trying to be modest, of course… 😉

  6. Chloris says:

    Oh gorgeous Cathy, what a fabulous collection of witch hazels and worth every penny. I love them all, Ruby Glow is a new one to me. These shrubs are addictive, I shall perhaps buy just one more this year. What a joy they are in January when there is not much else to enjoy. Thank you for sharing. I was going to do my favourite January blooms today but it snowed. Yuck, horrible stuff, I hope it doesn’t hang about.

    • Cathy says:

      I really can’t remember where I got Ruby Glow from – must check back in my blog and see if I have mentioned it before. This is the one that had different colou.red blooms one year, a still unexplained phenomenon. It is always a thrill to see them all in full bloom 😀 Snow here yesterday morning too then rain for the rest of the day so it has all gone

      • Chloris says:

        I bought a new WH today by accident. I went to the farm shop for eggs and there was one lonely WH sitting there all by itself, a decent size, nice shape and full of buds. And only £21.25. I resisted it and got in the car to drive home and then had to run back. It is ‘Westerstede’, do you know it?

        • Cathy says:

          An accident?!!! Hmm, that’s your story and you are sticking to it, I expect… 😉 But I agree, it must have been very lonely amongst the eggs and potatoes and £21.25 is a relatively small ransom to pay to set it free. I have seen pictures of it – the shreds are quite big, are they not, and it is definitely meant to have a fragrance? Do you have a spot in mind? What a nice treat for a Monday morning 🙂

  7. rusty duck says:

    Glad to see Strawberries and Cream is breaking bud. Do take a picture when it’s fully out, I’d love to see what it looks like!

    • Cathy says:

      Yes, I am pleased it is settling in too, Jessica, and the colours are looking more as I expected as the shreds unfurl – watch this space!

  8. Pauline says:

    They are all amazing. I think mine are in too much shade as they don’t flower nearly as well as yours. The bay bush has been cut back that was shading H. pallida so hopefully she will do better next year.

    • Cathy says:

      That’s the main thing I have learned from my early losses, that they don’t like to dry out – and certainly don’t flowers as well or at all if they have been too dry when flowers are forming in the previous summer. Good to hear from you – and I now realise I have not been notified recently of any posts on your blog but having just checked I can see that you have posted…

  9. Anca Tirca says:

    Lovely! I have jut put Hamamelis on my shopping list, thanks for the post!

  10. Cathy the Hamamelis collection she has is magnificent. The specimens are all beautiful in their different colors. I did not know there were so many and so beautiful colors! Another thing. I remember when he unearthed the Dalias bulbs and one had a malformation. There are videos on YouTube by the Sarah Raven Planter about planting and reproducing Dahlias bulbs. They are interesting. Greetings from Margarita.

    • Cathy says:

      Thanks Maragarita, and for your information about Sarah Raven and dahlias too – I am pretty sure what I found was a fungus probably not related to the dahlia itself, which doesn’t seem to have been harmed.

  11. Anna says:

    Your snowdrop border will look fabulous in another couple of weeks or so. It’s amazing sometimes just how quickly they can progress. You have really gathered together a fine collection of witch hazels now. They must add some welcome colour even on the direst of January days such as today. When would you say is the best time to plant them Cathy?

    • Cathy says:

      It certainly is in a bit of a lull at the moment, Anna – but with great promise of course, although there are still some non-shows… 😦 Theoretically if the witch hazels are grown in pots you could plant them any time, but when planting conditions are OK in winter and through to early spring would be best to help them get established before the drier months. Same with bare root ones – Strawberries and Cream was lifted from the field but it did have an extremely large rootball!

      • Anna says:

        Thank you Cathy 🙂 May well email you on the subject as I plan to make one or two witch hazel purchases. Deciding on which is taking a while.

        • Cathy says:

          Oh how lovely – do see them in real life first if you can as the size of the shreds varies between varieties as does the volume of flowers. And the shape of the plants too

  12. What an amazing collection! I only grow the straight species of spring and autumn bloomers and neither one flowers like your named varieties.

    • Cathy says:

      I believe these named varieties tend to be grafted onto H virginiana or similar – they are certainly gorgeous and worth every penny spent on them

  13. Cathy says:

    Seeing them all together is such a treat Cathy! I shall bookmark this post as a reference when I look for one in the future… maybe not this year, but certainly next! 🙂

  14. karen says:

    I had no idea where the name Jelena came from. It’s my favourite in my garden. I’m trying not to look too closely at that strawberries and cream. Too late, I’m smitten! Thanks for sharing. Your garden is as glorious in winter as it is in summer.

  15. karen says:

    Could you tell me please how to bookmark the article for future reference. Cathy just mentioned book marks. Great idea. Thanks. Karen

    • Cathy says:

      On the top right hand side of a web page there should be some sort of a symbol – it may be a star or in the case of Firefox it is like 4 books propped up. If you hover over it it should mention bookmarks – then click on it and it will be saved in a list of bookmarks

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  17. sweetbay103 says:

    Wow, you have an impressive witch hazel collection! ‘Strawberries and Cream’ looks very unique and beautiful. IMO witch hazels are the most dependable of winter bloomers. We’ve had a cold January, with lows dropping below -15 C one night. The buds on my Prunus meme were all frozen, which is the first time that’s ever happened in the 15 years that the tree has been blooming. The buds on the winter honeysuckle are OK but they have been set way back. They’ve typically been blooming for a month by now. The open flowers on the witch hazel – unaffected. I was amazed. It’s over 20 C today and thankfully the honeybees that have woken up have something to eat!

    • Cathy says:

      Thanks Sweetbay – I do like my witch hazels, and what a joy they are at this time of year. What a mixed winter you have had and how intriguing to raed how it had affected different plants in different ways

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