I would like to invite you to meet my other family, my witches!
Regular readers will know that I have a number of witch hazels which, not surprisingly, bring great pleasure at this time of year. Many of them are visible from the kitchen windows so can be enjoyed without leaving the house, but who wouldn’t want to ramble round their garden regardless of the weather when there are winter beauties like witch hazels to enjoy? Let’s start with ‘Harry’ (above), growing barely three feet away from the window above the kitchen sink and just outside the back door, so viewed at close quarters on a regular basis.
Hamamelis ‘Harry’ was one of my first witch hazel purchases, bought around 2003 from someone who at the time held a National Collection of them, which sadly no longer exists (I would like to think that the collection would have been transferred/sold to another holder) and he remains one of my favourites. I really like the shade of yellow, what I would call, from memories of childhood paintboxes, ‘chrome yellow’; although not densely flowered, the blooms are relatively large which make up for this. Harry was named by Jelena De Belder, well-known in horticultural circles for assisting in the creation of a famous arboretum in Antwerp; she also named witch hazels after herself and her daughter, Diane. I had a comment some years ago from the original Harry that it was named after, Harry von Trier, although I don’t know what the connection is. Google tells me there is also a hosta named after him, so perhaps he was a fellow horticulturalist.
Many of the witch hazels are in by the streamside, so let’s move on to ‘Magic Fire’, growing in the adjacent shrub border. This was bought with a combination of birthday garden vouchers and a haf price offer early in 2014, and therefore a real bargain! When I say ‘bargain’, in recent years you would be able to buy a witch hazel about 2-3 ft tall from a garden centre for around £30-40, but the choice will invariably be limited and sometimes restricted purely to yellow/red/orange. The blooms on Magic Fire are almost a paprika shade of red.
Across the pathway is ‘Spanish Spider’, also bought in early 2014 but from the nursery at local Bluebell Arboretum, which specialises in trees and shrubs. Prices at this sort of nursery would be similar but there would be more choice and they could give specialist advice if needed; they also supply by mail order.
Also in the same area of frosty grass is H Diane, daughter of the aforementioned Jelena, with bright red blooms. She has was moved to this spot from the woodland in 2013, where she was struggling, so was probably acquired the previous year, most likely from a local garden centre; I have not discouraged her from her almost horizontal form.
Keeping a watchful eye on her is Jelena, featured several times this year already, acquired locally in 2013, which was clearly a bumper year for witch hazel purchases! Her blooms this year have been magnificent, surely her best year ever.
Just behind Jelena is ‘Ruby Glow’, bought at the same time as Harry, and similarly well-established. I have seen this sold by some sellers as synonymous with ‘Diane’, but her blooms are smaller and not the same shade of red and I am confident it is a variety in its own right. Bizarrely, however, one year her blooms were a nondescript orange!
There is a foretaste of the adjacent H ‘Zuccariniana’, also bought from the National Collection holder, in the main photograph of ‘Ruby Glow’, with her outstretched limbs extending as much as 3 metres in total – preferable to growing upwards, as it is planted under the apple tree. Yellow is my least favourute witch hazel colour, but this one has shreds of an almost neon yellow colour, so is a little different from some. Unusually, the first blooms have only just opened and, although it didn’t flower last year, with a mass of buds this season, when they are fully open it will look (almost) as glorious as Jelena!
At the far end of this bed and just beside the shed is the last of the witch hazels in this area, H ‘Orange Peel’, satisfyingly the colour of marmalade, and vying with Harry and Jelena to be my favourite. Also added in 2013, it has made a spurt in growth in the last couple of seasons so really makes a statement when in bloom. This season it was the first, beginning early in December.
Moving on to the woodland edge border, we are greeted by Hamamelis ‘Arnold Promise’, invariably the last to begin flowering, but not so this year. Not yet in full bloom, this is one of the few witch hazels in the garden that has a noticeable airborne fragrance on a mild winter’s day, and was bought from a local garden in 2011 or thereabouts. Like many of the witch hazels, judicial staking is required to allow unrestricted access along nearby paths!
To the right is the only witch hazel that is not an intermedia (a cross between Japanese and Chinese witch hazels) variety, H vernalis ‘Amethyst’, acquired from Bluebell Arboretum at the same time as Spanish Spider; with small light purple blooms, it is very different from all the others but you will have to wait to confirm this as there is no sign of the buds opening yet, unusual in the average scheme of things. This used to be outside the kitchen windows, next to the paved area, but was moved to this more satisfactory location in the autumn of 2019 where it has put on a spurt of growth and is presumably happy.
To the left is the third witch hazel in corner, H ‘Rochester’, one of two ‘very expensive’ (three figures) purchases. When you have a number of the more readily available varieties and limited space available, another one would have to be pretty special and worth seeking out; sadly but unsurprisingly this comes at a cost which may or may not be worth the investment. This one was mentioned in the RHS journal early in 2019 and my research tracked it down to specialist Junkers Nursery in Somerset, from where I had bought a similarly costly variety the previous year. It had already flowered, when I purchased it, didn’t flower particularly well last year and has a mere 4 buds on it this year, but I will allow it the ‘still settling in’ excuse for the time being although it will need to pull its socks up, although removal of the oak tree should bring some improvement in its growing conditions. You are however, paying for the relative maturity and also for the shape of the shrub, which in the case of both my extravagances is more ‘tree like’ than the usual ‘urn’ shape associated with most specimens.
Further along the woodland edge is H ‘Pallida’, purchased in 2013 because it was a ‘rude not to’ bargain and not because it was particularly desirable; like ‘Arnold Promise’, it has a noticeable fragrance on a mild day.
At the edge of the woodland itself is H ‘Ruben’, a more acceptable bargain bought just 12 months ago, and planted at first in the new Entrance Border but moved later in the year to what appears to be a more sensible location, where it already looks more substantial although flowering has only just begun.
So, finally, we make it to the fourteenth (even I had forgotten it was 14!) and final witch hazel, sourced after reference to it by blogging friend Chloris: Hamamelis ‘Strawberries and Cream’, named for its bicoloured red and pale yellow blooms, a slightly optimistic nomenclature. Lording it over the special snowdrops, it arrived as a shapely tree following a big, fat payment in December 2017 , and is reasonably settled in and flowering better than at first, although the blooms need to be fully developed before they show a distinctive bicolour. It tends to be the last to flower, and has only begun to colour up in the last week or so.
Growing tips? My soil is fairly neutral which they find acceptable, although they may have been happier in slightly acidic soil. A well drained location in sun or partial shade would suit, and they like to be planted fairly shallowly, or even mound planted, which I did with the two expensive ones on the recommendation of the seller. They don’t like to dry out and, like rhododendrons, rain at the ‘right’ time seems to be important to good flowering. Buds appear in late summer and because this year many of mine seem to have a record number of buds and we had record rainfall in February last year, that may be the crucial time.
I hope you enjoyed meeting the family, a pleasing and easy-going bunch with some stunning colourful outfits: perhaps you might like to visit them again later in the year when they don different seasonal outfits in more autumnal shades…?