Monday, 28 January 2013

Want to go on a witch hunt?

Go on a hamamelis witch hunt
Now I know that most of us don't normally associate January and February with colour  in the garden but it doesn't have to be that way?  Colour doesn't have to be all in the imagination!  Winter has it's own little bit of colourful magic too and there's some in my Perthshire wildlife garden!

I promise that there are no brooms or black cats in sight  but there certainly are some spidery blooms.  

So are you interested? .........are you ready to go on a witch hunt?...........come on then!

Enchanting Flower Power

By 11th November 2012 the clusters of  flowers from one of the witch hazels in my garden -  Hamamelis intermedia 'Jelena' had just started to unfurl their magic.  The flowers usually remain on the shrub for about 6 weeks and normally I have flowers from December right through until February on 'Jelena'.  

Hammelis x intermedia 'Jelena' macro
Each flower has 4 petals suffused with orange, red and copper tones while around the base of the petals are 4 burgundy wine sepals.  Even once the 4 petals have gone the burgundy sepals still look attractive on the bare branches of the shrub.

Hammelis x intermedia 'Jelena' macro

Hamamelis x intermedia 'Jelena' was my first purchase almost 11 years ago and I must admit that I was shocked at the price.  Let's just say that they are an investment as grafted or budded shrubs are always that bit more expensive.   

After 11 years and now about 2 metres tall that investment is really showing it's magic in the garden.  

Winter Protection

The flowers are frost resistant.   The plant produces a sugar called hamamelose which has the same effect as antifreeze and stops the flowers from freezing.  Just like the snowdrops I wrote about a few years ago  Snowdrops  - Natures Antifreeze.
Hamamelis x intermedia 'Jelena'  witch hazel flowers under the snow | stippled-photo
Witch hazel blooms under the snow

If you already have a witch hazel in your garden you'll maybe never have noticed but the 4 spidery petals curl up more on cold nights to also protect themselves.  

Even though the shrubs are hardy and in flower at this time of year it's easy to forget that a newly purchased plant will still need a little bit of protection with horticutural fleece if it's planted during the winter months. (Witch hazels are listed as being H5 - see the scottish hardiness ratings for further details).
Hamamelis x intermedia 'Jelena'  witch hazel flowers under the snow | stippled-photo
Hamamelis x intermedia 'Jelena'  unscented flowers

Mistaken Identity

I have 4 different varieties of Hamamelis x intermedia in the garden 'Jelena', 'Pallida' and 'Diane'.  I know.......that's only 3 of them.  

I also have one called 'Orange Beauty' which I'm lead to believe is really 'Jelena'.  I'm not so sure if the 'Orange Beauty' was labeled correctly as mine flowers later than Jelena  and is very yellow.....nothing like Jelena.   So for now I'm not so sure what my 4th witch hazel really is.  

Caring for your witch hazel

#1  Here in Scotland they need to be planted in  full sun while in sunnier locations further south they might prefer a more dappled shade position.  

#2  All you need is a sheltered spot with good well drained soil - preferably on the acidic side. 

#3  It's best to plant it somewhere that it can been seen from indoors and as it matures you can cut a few branches to bring indoors and enjoy those lovely colours on your windowsill. 

#4  Witch hazel 'Jelena'  is quite vase like in appearance so needs quite a little bit of room to 'show off' those branches as it will eventually reach 3 metres tall. 

In hindsight I wish I had left more room between Jelena and a dwarf fuji Cherry -Prunus incisa 'Kojo No Mai'.  The Cherry hasn't flowered in 2 years and is on its last warning to start to flower..................or else! 

Who knows.........Jelena may get a little more space in the future!

Hamamelis x intermedia 'Jelena'  witch hazel flowering branches | stippled-photo
Vase shaped 
#5  Don't be surprised the plant doesn't do much in it's early years after being planted.  They are slow to established in the garden and it's a few years before you see much growth.

#6  As most witch hazels for sale are grafted or budded you might find that the odd shoot from the rootstock - Hamamelis virginiana will appear near the base of the plant.   In all the years of growing Jelena I've only had to pull off a few suckers twice.  (TIP: never cut off suckers but pull and tear them away from the rootstock - otherwise you'll just encourage more suckers to grow)

#7  Pruning is never drastic and if needed a little can be done in April. Prune the previous years growth back to two buds.

#8  You'll also need to watch the watering during the summer months especially if it's newly planted as it is prone to droop its leaves in dry weather.

#9  As the shrub is deciduous it has a nice display of golden autumn foliage.

#10  Knock the snow off the branches using a bamboo cane.  I discovered in the past week that even a few inches of snow can bend the branches right to the ground.

Hamamelis x intermedia 'Jelena'  witch hazel flowering branches laden with snow
branches almost touching the ground last weekend

What's in a Name.............who was Jelena?

Sometimes the greatest plant discoveries are not too far of the beaten track and this was the case with  Hamamelis x intermedia  'Jelena'.  
Hamamelis x intermedia 'Jelena'  witch hazel spidery flowers
Witch hazel spidery clusters of flowers

Horticulturalist Robert de Belder bought a piece of land with his brother in 1952  which was full of weeds and thickets of shrubs.  That same piece of ground had been created as an arboretum in 1858 by the Horticulturalist Charles Van Geet.   Up until WW1  the nursery man Antoine Kort had been trialing the Hamamelis species among many others there but after two world wars the place had become neglected and overgrown.  

In amongst one of those thickets almost 50 years later Robert de Belder discovered 'Jelena' and named it after the Slovakian horticulturalist whom he had fallen in love with. You can read more more about the horticulturalist Jelena de Belder here.  They later discovered Hamamelis x intermedia 'Diane' and named it after their daughter.  That same piece of land is now Kalmthout Arboretum which is renowned across Europe for its collection of Hamamelis.  

snowflakes on hamamelis x intermedia 'Jelena'
snowflakes on witch hazel blooms

The Witch Hunt!

If you want to see mature witch hazels that have never been pruned then you'll need to head over to the Hamamelis Festival at Kalmthout Arboretum in Belgium - Hamamelisfeesten  which takes place every year between  mid January and the end of February.  

February is probably the best time as more of the under story of snowdrops and hellebores will be in flower too.  (free entry to RHS members)

Let me know in the comments what witch hazels you grow or if you've visited some winter gardens that grow these shrubs.

Thanks for stopping by.

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Rosie is a passionate wildlife gardener in Scotland, a Perthshire / Tayside flower and garden photographer and writer.  She enjoys soaking up nature in her own garden and is easily distracted from doing the weeding by anything that buzzes, creeps, crawls or flutters. She enjoys sharing the beauty of creation through her photography.

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You have captured their beauty wonderfully - what do they look like for the rest of the year?

Thank you, Rosie! I went for a walk down my lane last week, with my camera, of course, and snapped some shots of these beauties but I had no idea what they were. So happy to have them identified and must say your shots are just gorgeous.

A most informative and beautifully illustrated post Rosie. If only Belgium were slightly nearer I would certainly make tracks for the Hamamelis Festival but I do hope to get to the slightly nearer Dunham Massey Winter Garden soon, to see the witches there :)

Hi Rosie: I bought a native witch hazel at the North American Native Plant Society sale a couple of years ago. The tag is still attached so I cannot tell you its genre. It is just a stick at the moment. Even the rabbit has no interest in it so far. I hope that some day I may have a bloom. Valerie

@elaine rickett

quite green and boring during the summer but the leaves go golden in the autumn time

@Andrea Dawn

Oh you're really fortunate to have these growing wild down that lane - such great photo opportunities!

@Gardening in a Sandbox

So even your native ones must take awhile to establish - great news that the rabbits keep away but maybe it's because of the medicinal qualities of the bark

Lovely macro shots Rosie! Witchhazels are great for adding colour to the garden during winter

What a beautiful plant. I'm going to be in Vancouver in mid February, I hope the witch hazel is still in bloom so I can see it. Interesting info about hamamelose, this is the first I've heard of it. Great post Rosie.

What gorgeous shots of the witch hazel blooms, if I hadn't inherited one I would be trying to work out how to afford buying one! Mine is yellow, a soft yellow, others have suggested that it is 'Arnold's Promise' or Pallida, I haven't been able to decide which. It is beautiful, whatever it is called, I now just have to work out what to plant around it.

Hello Rosie I have always liked the Jelena cv. We planted one at our last house and could hardly believe it when we visited and found it had been ripped out.

@Mark and Gaz

Thank goodness we have them otherwise winter colour would be so limited


I'm hoping the my unidentified one is Arnold Promise. My pallida is out in flower more today but the unidentified one is still not quite there yet

@catharine Howard

That's shocking! they mustn't have realised how beautiful it would have been during the winter nor how much they cost in a garden centre or nursery!

Rosie, I have always admired this variety Jelena. It would make a nice change from the yellow Arnolds Promise in our garden, now where will it go. Lovely profile and pictures of this Witch Hazel, and yes they are very expensive.

After seeing your last set of pictures - I set out to buy Jelena, I could only source yellow in the 5 GCs I visited. I was not going to buy for buyings sake and therefore Jelena will remain on my wish list for now!

These are by far the most beautiful images of Witch Hazel I have ever seen! Wow, very stunning! Words aren't enough, really. Thanks so much for sharing the images and all the great tips!

Well done on your blog/website, beautiful shots.