One of the first plant species that came to my mind for this article was that wonderful group of plants under the Hamamelidaceae family – Hamamelis, commonly known as witch hazel.

They contain many of the best attributes that anyone can wish for in a plant. They are slow growing, will survive in reasonable, well drained soils, in full sun or partial shade, even in an open but not too exposed garden, preferring an acid to neutral soil type.

Most of the Hamamelis species available today can trace their roots back to 5 or 6 species of deciduous shrubs, which occur in woodlands, at woodland margins and in river banks, mainly in Eastern Asia and also in North America.

The leaf colours in the autumn, depending on the variety, can range from golden yellow through to shades of burnt orange and blood red, particularly striking on plants which have such large leaves. The best plants are obtained from nurseries or garden centres as grafted plants, though some of the species can be grown from seed sown in pots in a cold frame as soon as they are ripe.

Under certain conditions, they can be prone to honey fungus and occasionally coral spot can be a problem. An autumn spray of old fashioned copper fungicide should help to keep the latter problem at bay – and ensuring that they are planted in free draining soil.

Pruning should only be attempted carefully, removing wayward or crossing shoots to maintain a healthy framework. Best done when dormant in late winter or early spring, although some varieties are dormant in late summer or early autumn.

Most of the varieties of Hamamelis we see in gardens today are descended from corsses of Hamamelis Japonica and Hamamelis Mollis.

In our garden, we’ve found the Hamamelis blend in well with other semi woodland plants such as Holly, Magnolias, Camelias, Rhododendrons and Azaleas. They also look stunning when planted against a dark background, where their golden flowers show up in the dreich, dull days of our late winters.

Here are a number of those varieties that have evolved through breeding into good garden specimens.

Hamamelis Mollis (Chinese Witch Hazel) – One of the best and has been around for a long time. Large, broad, oval, slightly hairy leaves turning golden yellow in autumn. The golden yellow flowers are borne in profusion in mid to late winter and are among the sweetest scented of all the Hamamalis varieties (pictured above)

Hamamelis Arnold PromiseHamamelis ‘Arnold Promise’ – Produces large, yellow flowers in mid to late winter

Hamamelis Diane

Hamamelis ‘Diane’ – One of the best red flowered seedlings raised, large leaves colouring orange to red in autumn. Raised in the Kalmtbout Arboretum, Belgium

Hamamelis Japonica SulphureaHamamelis japonica ‘Sulphurea’ – Fragrant, spidery, pale yellow flowers with 4 narrow crimped petals are borne on leafless branches in mid winter. Broadly oval, dark, green leaves turn yellow in autumn

Hamamelis vernalis SandraHamamelis vernalis ‘Sandra’ – Small fragrant, spidery, deep yellow blooms in late winter and early spring. Oval leaves are purple when young, mid greem in summer and purple, red, orange and yellow in autumn

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