Spring has arrived! Witch Hazel, one of the very earliest flowering shrubs you’ll find in the Okanagan has striking, yet delicate blossoms. With the snow still visible on the hills, these small wispy strands of bright yellow or bronze petals brighten up the late winter garden. On a cold day, its wonderfully delicate scent is hard to detect, but if you wait for the sun to warm the branches, or cut a piece to bring inside, you can enjoy it all day. Witch Hazel’s flowers are frost-resistant too, and when it gets very cold, the petals curl up for protection and unfurl when the temperature warms again. No danger of frost blight here.
The first photo, from a garden on Fairview Road, is a good example of a bronzy-red flowering variety. The plant in the second photo was planted last fall in a new garden on River Road. This variety (Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Arnold’s Promise’) should grow into a largish shrub reaching about 3-4 meters (10-12 feet) tall and wide. In a year or two when the Witch Hazel is larger and able to offer the shelter of summer shade, the plan is to under-plant with low growers such as hellebores, winter aconites, snowdrops or cyclamen which will bloom at the same time.
The winter flowering Witch Hazel has it’s origins in China and Japan and was introduced into the western gardens around the turn of the century. Since then many cultivars have been developed including other yellow varieties including ‘Pallida’ and ‘Primavera’, the bronze ‘Jelena’, and red flowering ‘Diana.’ There are also a few species of Witch Hazel native to eastern North American which bloom in late fall. All Witch Hazels grow into an open vase or ‘V’ shape and prefer well-drained soil. As to deer and drought they are said to tolerate some drought once established and the deer, who will eat anything when really hungry, tend to stay away from the native species, but may find the Asian ones more appealing. For more information on this early flowering shrub:
Watch the blooms unfold