great shrub: spike winterhazel, corylopsis spicata
IBOUGHT MYSELF A WINTERHAZEL 25-ISH OR 30 YEARS AGO, around the start of my Zone 5 gardening adventure, fresh in from the warmer city and with a lot to learn in the years of weekend gardening that lay ahead. The image of the massive old ones that grew at Wave Hill in New York City was firmly in my mind’s eye, and I was determined my Corylopsis spicata would be just like that some day: a cloud of yellow. “Some day” would be the operative words; in 2010, it finally was, at about 18 feet across and half as tall. And apparently I was not alone in that being my glory year.
The spike winterhazel (as C. spicata is known) is one member of this genus of witchhazel relatives that should be better grown, I think, even if their extra-early flowers can be iffy here in Zone 5B. That gets it listed in many places as Zone 6-8, though it’s otherwise hardy to 5. I
never really minded, because what followed the sometimes-half-strength bloom were pleated, bluish-green leaves (details in in the slideshow, below) so beautiful I never tired of them. And the plant’s structure, a slightly chaotic, outstretched tangle of delightfully crooked arms, pleased me all winter long. (That’s mine on the far left in the photo above, to show scale and shape, looking down the front path.)
But then came the spring of 2010, the jubilee. As the bloggers in Southwest England at the Hegarty Webber Partnership garden design site will tell you, too, there was something going on that year with winterhazel. (I was happy for such company in that fine moment, and to “meet” them.) Their 20-something-year-old plant went positively mad, too. Synchronicity!
Grow winterhazels in sun or part shade, in moist but well-drained soil, and if you’re pushing it (as I am) with the tassel-like flowers, offer a site that gives protection from winter winds that could kill some of those precious buds.
There are other good garden species, notably C. pauciflora (the buttercup winterhazel, Zone 6-8) and C. glabrescens (the hardiest, supposedly, Zone 5-8), and so on, but I’m a spicata girl through and through.
So much so that in this year of the winterhazel I treated myself to the gold-leaf form, C. spicata ‘Aurea,’ above, sometimes labeled ‘Gold Spring,’ and I have to say when the box arrived I could almost see it glowing right through the corrugated walls. Happy days.
[Update 2017: I succumbed to a pauciflora at a plant sale late 2016 and so far, so good. I stand corrected in my earlier spicata-only leanings!]
Click on the first thumbnail, then toggle from slide to slide using the arrows beside the captions. Enjoy!
Corylopsis mail-order sources: