Have you been spotting the outrageous Witch Hazel cultivars in bloom? The crosses between the Japanese species Hamamelis japonica and the Chinese species Hamamelis mollis are knockouts. I noticed many of them in the vignettes at the NW Flower & Garden Show and have been tracking them as they light up people’s gardens and public parks.
Depending on where you are in Western Washington, yours could be finishing up its bloom, or breaking into it. By far, my favorite of these cultivars is ‘Jelena’, which has orangey gold thread like petals and a sunshiny disposition at a time when the garden is foggy gray.
I have always admired the Witch Hazel hybrids that are trained as an espalier on the side of buildings at UW’s Center for Urban Horticulture. What a stunning way to show off an ultra-cool, but sometimes hard to notice shrub. Most of the time, as in my garden, the Witch Hazels are large, wide, vase-like shrubs. Their size must be accounted for, and as such, they often end up where they may not receive much traffic in February.
Another reason they sometimes escape notice despite their showy, bright blooms is that the filamented petals that hug the bare branches disappear against an open sky. The espalier training on the CUH buildings is genius as it permits the plants to shine without taking up a lot of room, the flowers show up against the building, and of course, close inspection is permitted by pedestrians. When in their more natural shrub form, they are best placed where they can be viewed against a background of evergreens so that the flowers stand out. This is true of most winter bloomers.
I have for years had the more mundane American native Witch Hazel, Hamamelis virginiana in my garden, which flowers quite discretely in autumn as its leaves turn yellow. A plain Jane compared to the intermedia hybrids, it also lacks the fragrance of the showy crosses. None the less, I love it for the fact that it doesn’t need to be irrigated and demands no care. The hybrids of both the Japanese and the Chinese species, and the crosses are of similar disposition, though naturally if you intend to espalier one, be prepared for regular, careful pruning of these shrubs that are vigorous once established.
In Western Washington, Witch Hazels appreciate full sun (best fall color) to part shade, plenty of room to thrive, and well drained, but not necessarily rich soils. Deep watering the first two or three summers gets them established and ready to withstand summer drought thereafter. More information on Jelena Witch Hazel and other H. x intermedia hybrids can be found at www.greatplantpicks.org
© Colleen Miko, 2012