Friday, February 5, 2016

I Forgive

It's been way too warm, in the 50s, and it rained during the week. Gail and I skied in slushy conditions yesterday but it wasn't bad, given how freakishly warm and wet February has started out. Today it's 32 degrees and snowing. It's coming down steadily and the landscape is transformed.

For several winters now I have been cutting branches of my witch hazels and bringing them indoors to force. The small flowered branches are nice enough in a vase, but what I really wanted was the heavenly scent. I was always disappointed.

I have two kinds of witch hazels. In the gurgling fish pitcher are branches of Hamamelis vernalis, a spring blooming witch hazel with rust colored flowers. The plant is a shrub, with stems that grow straight upright from the ground in a thicket. The tall straight branches sit well in a narrow pitcher. Spring witch hazel doesn't really have any fragrance.

In the green pitcher I have branches of Hamamelis x intermedia 'Diane' -- a red flowered hybrid that is more tree shaped and spreading. It flowers along the bottom of its branches making it impossible to find branches shaped for a vase. All the blooming flowers are stuck down in the water inside the pitcher.

But that is okay because this is the first winter I have been rewarded with a noticeable, heavenly aroma. Refreshing, not sweet or perfumey.

In past winters I've had the occasional underwhelming whiff from 'Diane' here and there, but this year I get a lingering, spicy smell anywhere near the pitcher of branches.


I'm concerned, though, because the flowers, even scented as beautifully as they are, have never looked right. They appear stunted. They are not red. 'Diane' is described as a heavy bloomer (mine is not), with reliably deep red flowers (mine are copper orange), and profuse, almost shaggy petals (mine have only a few spidery straps).

On my plant the sparse, orangey colored flowers are tiny, each smaller than a dime when fully open.

For reference, here are random shots of Hamamelis x intermedia 'Diane' from the internet. Not even close.

And lest you think these are photoshopped or over-enhanced, I have seen a real live 'Diane' witch hazel, a mature one, in full bloom at Broken Arrow nursery in their garden beds. It was covered in flowers, very red, and each bloom was almost fluffy looking.

Here's the shot of it that I took in 2010 with my old point and click on a very overcast, gloomy March day. It doesn't really capture the intense red, and the whole impact of this beautiful plant in bloom.

I have been fussing and worrying over the growth habit, storm damage, sparse flowering, leaf marcescence, and stunted blooms of my 'Diane' witch hazel for years. She gives me agita.

But for the first time ever she smells so good in the house in winter. I may forgive.


  1. Perhaps Diane needs another year or two to fully mature, flowers and all. How long have you grown her?

    1. Patty, that's the frustrating thing -- I planted 'Diane' in 2006! It's going on 10 years. I know witch hazels are slow growers, but it's been a long time. I did move it (twice) in 2010 -- but it's been in the current location since then. I asked Broken Arrow nursery about the stunted flowers and whether that was because it was young, and they said no -- flowers on even young 'Diane' plants are good sized, deep red and strappy looking. They could not explain mine : (