While walking around my garden a hunch told me I should look closely at one of my witch hazels, Hamamelis vernalis. The other witch hazel I have is Hamamelis virginiana, Common Witch Hazel. The vernal witch hazel is in bloom! Some say the forsythia is a harbinger of spring and the first shrub to bloom in the new year. Not true! Witch hazels are very early bloomers and much earlier than forsythia. Witch hazels are not as showy as forsythias and had I not been looking, I surely would have missed the bloom. Though witch hazels are not as showy as forsythias, they more than make up for this fault by being very fragrant.
Two summers ago I researched witch hazels quite thoroughly. I wanted to be sure I purchased the exact type I desired. I found two nurseries which carried witch hazels. One nearby nursery was located in Louisville, Kentucky, and the other one was in Marion, North Carolina. Obviously, the nursery in Louisville was much closer and would have been a better option to purchase my witch hazels, but as luck would have it, my in-laws live just 20 miles from Marion. We had a visit scheduled to see the in-laws within a month of researching my witch hazels. So I chose not to travel to Louisville, and instead waited to purchase a witch hazel or two during our visit to North Carolina. When I can shop at a plant nursery while visiting in-laws, I get so much happier about the visit.
The name of the nursery is called We Du Natives, and the website can be found at: http://www.we-du.com/. You really should call ahead if you plan to visit this nursery. The owner is very knowledgeable and told me a funny story about the mother plant of my witch hazel. He has motion detectors set up in his nursery with an alarm to alert him to visitors. (He lives on the property). When he comes out to investigate late night alarms, he said he sometimes smells cheap mens' cologne. He diligently looks around for someone to be there, but when he finds no one, he surmises it is the witch hazel smelling up the garden and perhaps wildlife set off the motion detector. I don't think my witch hazel smells like cheap mens' cologne, but more like honeysuckle. It is not quite large enough to fragrance my whole garden, but will with time.
Witch hazel flowers are not all that showy, but the shrubs do usually bloom before the foliage comes out. Depending on the variety you purchase, some witch hazels can be showy. The tonic witch hazel is made from the bark and leaves of the Hamamelis virginiana. That is usually the first question people ask when I mention witch hazel shrubs for the garden. And no, I am not going to attempt to make the tonic as my pleasure is only in growing the witch hazel.
Most witch hazels are native plants and do best in a woodland setting with rich organic soil. Full sun is probably not the best situation but they can tolerate part sun. The purple-green plant in the the top left corner of the picture is 'Huskers Red' Penstemon, a wonderful little plant I love in the garden.
The witch hazels can get quite large with a large lateral spread. The two I purchased fared well this past summer, even with the drought. They have not grown much but are well established and I look forward to an even bigger bloom next winter. I find them easy to care for in the garden. The fact witch hazels are fragrant and bloom in the middle of winter, make them my choice for January's Plant of the Month.
in the garden....enjoying the first bloom of the new year.