Witch Hazel In Winter Gardens

Bare branches with red spidery flowers

Here’s a closer look at witch hazel (Hamamelis). Ancient lore accords these flowering shrubs medicinal, cultural and even religious value, but here I’m focusing on their decorative quality. In the UK, witch hazels drop their leaves in autumn, then produce colourful flowers that are particularly welcome in the winter garden.

Bare branches with orange flowers

The flowers appear to float, held up in the air on slender stems that would otherwise go unnoticed in deciduous plantings. The rusty orange one particularly attracted me. Rich purple calyces provide a beautiful contrast, and the colour palette just seems to get better as the older petals wither. 

Flowers with long petals on leafless branches

The yellow witch hazel’s thickly clustered petals made me think of ticker tape. Google’s definition includes:

  • denoting a parade or other celebratory event in which ticker tape or similar material is thrown from windows.

That’s just it. The plant is calling out to passing pollinators: “Let’s get this party started”.

The top picture was taken at Dunham Massey and the bottom two at Ness Botanic Gardens.

25 Replies to “Witch Hazel In Winter Gardens”

  1. I really know nothing about these plants, so I enjoyed reading your blog about them. The flowers are like miniature Christmas streamers yet to be opened out, and the colours are so pretty. I don’t think I’ve seen them growing in Australian gardens: perhaps they’re found further south where the climate is milder.

    1. Christmas streamers is a great description. You’re right. They grow in the cool, elevated areas to the south, but they are not sold in great numbers, even there.

  2. Yes, let’s get this party started! However, I must admit that I don’t recall ever seeing witch hazel.

  3. Thanks to Susan and a few other UK bloggers, over the last few months I have become aware of these remarkable winter blooms. I’ve never heard of anyone growing a witch hazel in Australia- if there are any Australian gardeners reading this, can you tell me if they can be grown here? Jane

  4. This is another one that I miss growing. We discontinued them years ago because they were not popular here after their first year. I suppose we have too many other things blooming in winter. I think I like their foliar color in autumn more than their blooms. We grew only a few cultivars, which did not include the simple witch hazel.

    1. They do stand out better when the other trees and shrubs around have dropped their leaves. It’s a broad generalisation, but people over there seem to demand a greater degree of all round interest from any plant.

      1. Yes, horticulture can be rather ‘cheap’ like that here. We also do not like deciduous plants much. Year round interest is overrated for some plants. I mean, some that bloom almost all year are not as interesting as some of the plants that bloom only once. I think that hazels are pretty busy blooming in winter and then providing exquisite foliar color in autumn

        1. I’m fine with plants that only bloom once. It seems natural that they would. Although a year-round flowering cherry would be nice!

          1. Long bloom seasons are overrated for some plants. It is nice for roses and such. Flowering cherries would be nice, but might eventually get cheapened if they bloomed for too long. A brief bloom is appreciated more, like a holiday that comes only once a year.

  5. The witch hazel that appeared on your blog recently was an eye-opener for me. I had no idea! To see now that there are even more colors — well, this is rich indeed. What lively little squiggles! They do seem ready to party. Thank you!

  6. What a strange, weird and wonderful flower! Witch hazel in a bottle is very familiar, but I had no idea the tree had such great flowers. They would be a burst of life in a wintery landscape.

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