Meet the Family!

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…?

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46 Responses to Meet the Family!

  1. Your collection of Hamamelis is wonderful and I especially like the Hamamelis ‘Harry’ with its large flowers. I have always been a fan of having winter interest in the garden and you have accomplished this beautifully!

  2. A fascinating post Cathy. I do like your witches – they use their witchcraft in a gentle magical way in your garden and they have certainly cast a spell on you. How considerate of them to not all start to show colour at the same time. I wonder if you use any of them as hosts for small climbers. I am about to order a new housewarming/Christmas present for a friend who moved earlier this month and know that I will find it hard to choose. Luckily she has given me a colour preference 😄

    • Cathy says:

      Thanks Anna, I hope I won’t regret their presence once they reach maturity, although most shouldn’t reach more than about 3m 😉 I haven’t considered growing anything up them, whch somehow seems like defacing them – although something like a clematis has a completely different period of interest. Your friend must have been relieved to have been able to move despite evrything going on at the moment – and I guessed you meant a witch hazel…I wonder which you might go for…?

  3. Anna Higgins says:

    P.S. I didn’t clarify that the present is none other than a witch hazel 😂

  4. Eliza Waters says:

    Impressive collection, Cathy!

    • Cathy says:

      Thanks Eliza, I don’t aim to impress though, just to bring colour into the garden in the winter months – but it is a shame not to be opening the garden next month as planned, so as to share their joys with others

  5. I don’t have any witch hazels in my garden, but they’re fascinating. There are some at the local arboretums and botanical gardens. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

    • Cathy says:

      My Mum was surprised that there were so many varieties around as she had only seen yellow ones – but I suspect many of these intermedia varieties are fairly recent introductions, As you suggest, they will certainly be in many arboretums and botanical gardens these days

  6. tonytomeo says:

    A few of these cultivars, as well as a few others, grew on the farm for a while. They were all discontinued within a few years though! They were unpopular here, perhaps because not many who live here know what they are. I probably mentioned that before. It struck me as odd, since most people here are from somewhere else, including places where hazels are popular.

    • Cathy says:

      Yes, people may be reluctant to buy plants they have never heard of – and remembering the 70s when I first had a garden of my own the choice of plants in general that were available in nurseries was very small, and it was mostly shrubs

      • tonytomeo says:

        Ha! Some of what was popular back then is difficult to find, like those ‘common’ Paris daisies with the big flowers. (Modern types have smaller flowers and denser growth.)

  7. Chloris says:

    A magnificent collection, worth every penny. This year my Diane has held on to her dead leaves which rather spoils the effect. I find yellow ones are later blooming with Arnold Promise the last of all. My favourite this year is Vesna, but it changes each year. Is your collection complete now or are you planning on just one more?

    • Cathy says:

      Harry still has some leaves, as you will have seen from the photo, and I do intend to snip them off but as he is growing in a raised area I need something to stand on first! One of my others held onto them as well, and I removed them – could have been Diane. I find its best not to try and pull them off as the buds can come off with them. Theyellows are invariably the last here too. My Mum was telling me last night that the one in our childhood home (which I suspect will have been an H Mollis) reliably began flowereing every Boxing Day – but I suppose our winters were reliably long and cold in those days!! And another one – who knows?! 😁

  8. Cathy your Witch Hazel “family” is spectacular, unique, I love it. They are all divine, each one with its color and its peculiarity, I love it. “Arnold Promise” with its fragrant flowers that fill the air I love it. “Ruben” has a very special color flowers, I love it. “Diane” is lovely with the shape that she has and the color of her flowers, I love it. “Jelena” is spectacular, I love it. Cathy your 14 Hamamelis are exceptionally divine and magnificent, I love them. Take good care of yourself and the golfer and keep yourself safe. Your garden is full of color in the middle of winter, it is wonderful: enjoy it. Very affectionate greetings from Margarita.

    • Cathy says:

      Thank you Margarita – there is always something worth rambling round the garden for, whatever the time of year, which is why the garden brings such joy 😊

      • Thank you Cathy for showing us your garden beauties. And yes, the garden gives a lot of joy and a lot of peace: I miss it. I would love to live in a house with a garden all year round, but that is not possible. I am satisfied with being able to go from May to September to my country house every year. Happy gardening. Very affectionate greetings from Margarita 😉

  9. Ian Lumsden says:

    My problem with witch hazels is that the foliage is uninteresting apart from their flowering period, although it has to be admitted that is at a dark period in the garden. However you’ve got me interested again.

  10. Annette says:

    You’ve a wonderful collection, Cathy. I love them too but only planted three as they do get quite big and don’t like being pruned. I’ve noticed in the first pic that some old leaves hang on to yours. It’s peculiar – one of mine was seriously “molested” by Rudolf a couple of years ago and I thought it’d die but actually it grew back very strongly. But now there seem to two different type of flowers, I suppose the Hamamelis it was grafted on is pushing through and doesn’t lose its leaves in winter which is awkward as it looks kind of ugly and spoils the flowers.

    • Cathy says:

      Sometimes there are occasional random flowers in a different shade, on mine, but I have never considered it could be a link to the original plant they were grafted onto. I do get suckers from the original sometimes, but they are always very different and easy to spot and I cut them off. And yes, occasionally some leaves are retained and I just carefully snip them off – none of the shrubs are too big to make this a hard job. I hope your three continue to give you pleasure and are not visited too often by Rudolf!!

  11. Cathy says:

    It is great to have finally met them all together. What a good-looking bunch!

    • Cathy says:

      It would have been better of they had all been in bloom though – strange that Amethyst was one of the first to flower last year, I think

      • Cathy says:

        I have been looking online for either Jelena, Diane or even Amethyst, as our garden centres are closed until at least the middle of February. Would prefer to see it before I buy it though!

        • Cathy says:

          Amethyst will probably be harder to find – will you just be looking at nurseries in Germany?

          • Cathy says:

            Yes, Germany. There are a couple of nurseries in Austria too, but delivery times are very long. I did look at a couple of UK nurseries, but they are not delivering abroad at the moment what with Brexit etc!

          • Cathy says:

            I nearly suggested Bluebell Nurseries and then remembered that Brexit may well have made a difference to export for them. Might it be worth having a UK delivery to your parents to pick up when you can finally visit?

          • Cathy says:

            Heaven knows when that will be! And anyway, I am not sure how I would get it home in a plane! They are talking about completely closing our borders to the UK. I must admit I am not up-to-date on the rules though as I have been avoiding the news this week. I shall have a look at the Bluebell Nurseries website though and dream a little! 😝

          • Cathy says:

            How long is it since you last saw your parents? As you say, who knows when borders will be open again

          • Cathy says:

            It was December 2019. I had planned to visit before Easter. Then in the summer I considered travelling but then they declared several European countries risk areas and I wouldn’t have been able self-isolate on arrival. Never thought it would go on this long.

          • Cathy says:

            Yes, who knew back then?! We saw my Mum that Christmas too but managed to zip up there in September once Scotland allowed overnight stays again – and my elder sister had just made a visit in Feb/March, before the first lockdown

          • Cathy says:

            I have just taken a deep breath and ordered one (Diane) online from a nursery I have used a lot in the past. Keeping my fingers crossed… delivery not until mid February. 🙃

          • Cathy says:

            Ooh – how exciting! And that’s just a fortnight away so maybe it will still be in flower… 😊

  12. Paddy Tobin says:

    These are such beautiful plants. Your mention of that National Plant Collection holder back in 2003 makes us wonder if we visited at the time. We recall we took a flight over to visit John Massey’s Ashwood Nursery to get some hellebores and had time on hand so visited a lady who held the collection at the time. I can still recall how we were so very impressed by those with marmalade colouring.

    • Cathy says:

      Yes, that would have been it, Paddy – it was in Albrighton, near Wolverhampton. Googling it now, I can’t find reference to it after 2012, and the owner herself passed away in 2018, well into her 80s. The last time I checked, the property was up for sale, which is when I deduced the Collection was no longer there, perhaps 3 or 4 years ago. The ‘marmalade’ shades are my favourite too.

  13. Scott Dee says:

    That’s a wonderful family of plants! Are you in charge of taking care of them, or do you trust other people to do it?

  14. Paddy Tobin says:

    Yes, beautiful colour

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