My father’s birthday falls during the last week of February, and it’s a rare year indeed when I can’t go out to the garden to cut some witchhazel branches for the dining room table. More than a month before the forsythias have even thought about bursting their buds, my ‘Pallida’ witchhazel is blooming its head off, its ribbons of sweetly scented bright yellow flowers sparkling defiantly against the snow.
Inexplicably overlooked by many gardeners, witchhazels (Hamamelis spp. and cvs.) are the first plants to bloom in my late winter garden, and to me are worth their weight in gold for that reason alone. Apart from some early hellebores – which I often find flowering under the snow – it’s my witchhazels that persuade me that winter is beginning to loosen its icy grip.
'Jelena' Photography by Joshua McCullough
Plant profile: Witchhazel
The genus Hamamelis contains just six species of shrubs or small trees, two of which are native to North America. But from a gardener’s viewpoint, the most important witchhazels are the result of crosses between the Japanese H. japonica and the Chinese H. mollis, which are now known as H. ×intermedia. First described in 1945 from plants growing at the Arnold Arboretum at Harvard University, depending where you live in Canada these new witchhazels may be in flower anytime from January to March, ushering in the new growing season with considerable panache.
Today, ‘Jelena’ (above) is deservedly one of the best cultivars. it has such a warm, coppery orange colour that on cold days you feel you could warm your hands against its flowers.