Thursday, March 12, 2009

This is Not Forsythia

I plant witch hazel because I love its delicate fragrance and because it blooms in the winter. Bright sunny yellow threads radiate from dark red calyces, clinging to frozen bare branches, or intermingling with snow laden ones.

In my garden here grow the Chinese witch hazel Hamamelis mollis and the hybrid H. x intermedia 'Primavera.' A third was to have been H. 'Jelena' - the rusty red flowering variety - but instead grew up to be H. 'Pallida' with pale lemon flowers, when it was discovered the year after planting that the nursery had sent the wrong variety.

But no matter.

Red or yellow, some years the witch hazel may start blooming as early as Christmas time. This year it was late January before the thin yellowish streamers began to slowly unfurl, like miniature hatchlings, from cobby ochre buds nestled against the bare branches.

The cold keeps them going. They love it. But it is on warmer days that one truly gets whiffs of the powdery fragrance that brings back the flickery sensations of toddler days apres le bain.

Witch hazel is what keeps me reconciled to chilly March - even cold April days. And then there is the unmistakable addendum of sculpturally ridged leaves which turn gold, orange and red in autumn.

And so, with apologies to forsythia lovers, I will say "there is no comparison."

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