Blooming in Winter

Hamamelis - Witch Hazel

Witch Hazels are often overlooked when people consider a large shrub or small tree for a garden, but they have a lot to offer and even more so at a time of year when there might be little else to cheer about.

As Autumn starts to settle in and thoughts of Winter flowering shrubs begin to enter our minds, it is hard not to consider the Witch Hazel. For anyone who has seen a Witch hazel in full bloom, knows that it can be breathtaking and intriguing!

With it’s bright spidery scented flowers on bare branches, it does look like some Witch’s magic has been hard at work, but the witch in Witch Hazel is from the old English word ‘wiche’ meaning bendable or pliant and the Hazel refers to its leaf’s similarity to the common Hazel of which it is no relation.

Hamamalis virginiana is the american Witch Hazel and has long been regarded as a medicinal tree, North American Indians used it extensively to heal wounds, treat tumours, eye problems and it is widely used in skin products.

The flowers of the Witch Hazel vary from lightly scented to having a strong fragrance with a hint of spice. It will grow in any good free draining soil.

Most Witch Hazel varieties sold today are a cross of the Chinese and Japanese Witch Hazels, Hamamalis x intermedia cultivars are vigorous and reliable and come in many colours, the flowers are extremely hardy and it is not uncommon to see them covered in frost to no ill effect. They need very little maintenance but they do prefer the soil on the more acidic side, some varieties can do well on neutral soils and they flower best in full sun.

However all the focus should not be on the flowers, before these appear you usually have a fantastic display of Autumn colour which can vary from yellow through to deep red.

Most varieties grow around 3 to 4 mtrs in 10 years, so not massive and any medium sized garden should be able to accomodate one. If space is tight, they can be pruned back after flowering to keep them in check. A strong rejuvenation pruning is also no problem.

There are many varieties to choose from, if you are lucky enough to have a garden that can accommodate two Witch hazels, then you can have different colours to brighten up your Winter garden and add that bit of eye catching magic.

Matt Keane