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Winter scent: in praise of Hamamelis

  • Winter scent: in praise of Hamamelis
  • Winter scent: in praise of Hamamelis

Gents, is your garden lacking in scent at this time of year? Ladies, are you ashamed to invite a friend round for tea on the lawn this month? (laughs)

People without gardens often assume that the whole thing is completely dead through the winter, but there are flowers flowering and scent-aplenty, if you pick the correct plants and put them in the right place.

For example, here's a Hamamelis, or Witch Hazel, flowering dramatically right now - yesterday, in fact - and it's been sited on a fairly protected, sloping lawn, close to the front door and the path leading to it, so the scent from the flowers doesn't get blown away, and can be appreciated every time the owners use the front door.

Not all Witch Hazel flower in winter, so if you want flowers (and scent!) at this time, you have to select the correct one. The “wrong” one is H. virginiana, which does its thing in autumn. For a small to medium-sized shrub, choose Hamamelis x intermedia, which is a cross between H. japonica (mildly fragrant yellow flowers, 10-15' tall) and H. mollis (very strongly scented yellow flowers, but grows into a small tree, about 26' tall).

H. x intermedia combines the strong scent of one parent with the smaller stature of the other, and has been bred to produce several very successful garden cultivars, notably 'Diane' with red, slightly scented flowers; 'Jelena' with coppery-orange flowers (only mildly scented, if at all); and the most commonly-planted, 'Pallida' whose yellow flowers are strongly scented.

Generally speaking, Hamamelis are slow-growing, and unfussy: they prefer full sun, but will tolerate semi-shade. They don't need much in the way of pruning, and they will reward you with leggy, spidery flowers in the depth of winter: ideal for planting adjacent to a path, or near the parking space - somewhere that you will be walking past, most days. The occasional branch can be cut and taken indoors, where it will fill the room with scent.

Of course, Hamamelis are not the only winter-flowering scented shrub; Viburnum bodnantense is flowering now, as are Sarcococca, Daphne, and Mahonia, to name just a few, so there is no excuse for having an unscented garden all winter!

Comments (4)

  1. Grower

    Angie's Garden

    Jelena now finished here in my garden Rachel. It started flowering back in autumn, it usually does but the flowers tend to last well into March. Not this year though and I expect the issue is the fact that I sited a peanut feeder too near and the birds perch and possibly damage the flower buds. She could do with a move to a more prominent position. Never have detected any scent in the 4 years I've had it. Now where can I move it too? Pass me the shoe horn please!

    • Winter scent: in praise of Hamamelis
  2. Grower

    Rachel the Gardener

    Hi Angie (waves), wow, lovely colour! I suppose that depth of colour AND scent are too much to ask for?

    Your point about the peanut feeder is an interesting one, we had a post on here recently about birds damaging flower buds by pecking on them - not quite the same as damaging the buds by landing on them!

    (passes the shoehorn)

  3. Grower

    Jim Edwards

    Do not move yet, bury any low growing branches, peg down to create new roots, lift in fall through winter when new roots have developed, disect and pot up the developed roots to create new plants. Lovely Jubbly xx

  4. Grower

    Angie's Garden

    Yes, I remember the post re the mahonia Rachel, the scent might be better in more milder areas. There's that north south divide again :)
    Good idea Jim except my specimen has a clear stem from the base up to around 2ft. I bought it that way as I like the 'tree effect' it gives.

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