ILOST A LOT OF SHRUBS in the fall of 2011, between deliberate culling required by the garden’s age (at that time, twenty-five overgrown years!) and a freakish late-October snowstorm that then took even more than were in my giveback plans. One silver lining—or should I say golden and coppery, perhaps?—was that spots opened up for some witch-hazels, or Hamamelis, and I’ve been enjoying the first rewards from my young plants like the intermediate hybrid called ‘Jelena’ (above) each late winter since.
By intermediate, or x intermedia as it would be stated in formal botanical Latin, it means that ‘Jelena’ is a child of two great parents: the Chinese witch-hazel (Hamamelis mollis) and the Japanese species (H. japonica). Their offspring (hardy in Zone 5-8) are mostly fragrant, and all bloom early and have hot fall foliage besides.
I have said before that if garden centers were open in February or March in cold-climate zones like mine, I am certain that early blooming Asian witch-hazels would knock the far-more-vulgar (and admittedly later) Forsythia out of the ring. I call the latter “vomit of spring.” Witch-hazel I call simply beautiful.
‘Jelena’, with its coppery, scented flowers, is more horizontal in stature than another I made a spot for, the vase-shaped ‘Pallida’ (above). I’m figuring on perhaps 10 or 12 feet in eventual height, and about as wide someday. Some, like the best-known of all, yellow-flowered ‘Arnold Promise,’ are bigger.
The intermediate hybrid witch-hazels like a spot in full sun to part shade (more flowers in the former, of course, but spare them a too-hot dry location). Like Fothergilla and Corylopsis, their cousins in the Hamamelidaceae or Hamamelis family and two of my favorite shrubs of all, witch-hazels have handsome foliage that seems to resist most insects and other havoc (whether deer eat them or not depends where you live, as with many plants; Rutgers, for instance, classifies them as “seldom severely damaged,” other disagree).
My only caveat: Keep an eye on the base of the plant for the emergence of any suspicious, extra-vigorous shoots that may wish to overtake the desired cultivar. These witch-hazels are often sold as grafted shrubs, meaning the rootstock may try to out-compete the variety you want. Remember who has the pruners and take no prisoners on suckers!
Right now, I’m having trouble resisting running back outside over and again to stick my nose in their strange little streamer-like blooms. Can you blame me?
(For more suggestions of shrubs to plant for extra-early bloom instead of the oh-so-overused forsythia, which doesn’t happen here till about April, read on. For more of my “great shrubs,” ones I really love, I’ve archived them at this link.)