LAST EVENING, I took advantage of the weird, mid-March heatwave (68 degrees!) by spending a little “me” time in the Serpentine Garden. There, while sitting on a sun-warmed stone wall (and while sipping Carnet Sauvignon) I inhaled one of the loveliest perfumes in the world — that of the winter-blooming Witch hazel, Hamamelis vernalis. Why I love this shrub in all seasons:
No matter how cold or mild the winter, vernalis is always a welcome surprise. For its spidery, stem-hugging flowers appear in February, when the rest of the garden is barren and gray. The flowers are copper-colored, and intensely fragrant. A bouquet of stems will scent a whole room.
From spring through summer, the shrub (above, left) adorns itself from head to toe in green, ovate leaves. What an engaging background it made one summer, when I planted Berlandiera lyrata, the yellow, cocoa-scented “Chocolate Flower,” at its feet. In autumn the leaves contribute a touch of gold to the landscape.
Culture: For such a beautiful shrub, Hamamelis is extremely easy to care for. It prefers full sun, but will tolerate all kinds of soil. Mine flourishes on a steep, south-facing bank, and in clay soil that I amended with plenty of leaf mold. Provide water the first spring and summer, but thereafter you needn’t bother. The shrub will attain a height and spread of 6-10 feet in as many years, so give it ample room to grow. It is hardy in zones 4-8. It is also pest and disease-free, and deer-resistant.
For scented winter flowers, summer greenery and autumn color, you really can’t beat Hamamelis vernalis. Can you imagine this shrub in your own garden?
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