Thursday, April 7, 2011

Fragrant Winter Hazel

April comes like an idiot, babbling, and strewing flowers.
~ Edna St. Vincent Millay, American poet, 1892-1950

I have two Winter Hazels (Corylopsis veitch) in my garden and they are in full bloom now. I specifically bought them for fragrance, size, shape and the soft yellow bloom color, in that order. At the time, I was also considering Witch Hazel (Hamamelis). Hamamelis has similar growth shape, size and also a fragrance but what bothered me about it is for one: it hangs onto its old leaves forever and two: it is commonly seen in gardens around here. I just didn’t like the look of last years old, brown, withered leaves still attached to the branches when this years blossoms open. It just looks messy to me and I’m on the fence whether or not I like the spidery looking blossoms.

Corylopsis veitch is harder to find but well worth the effort. Nurseries stock more of the smaller Corylopsis species (Corylopsis spicata) but in my opinion ‘veitch’ gives a much better show due to its larger size and I was after adding height to my garden. C. veitch is vase shaped, meaning V shaped, so it doesn’t really take up that much room in width low to the ground. After several years in my garden its skyward reaching branches rise to about 12 feet (3.6m) so I get nice structure and height, but I didn’t give up much garden space. Many shrubs and perennials can be planted around and under it. I don’t have a big garden, just a postage stamp sized city lot, but it fits well. There’s less than 17 feet (5.2m) between our houses and yet it fits nicely between the two walkways with minimal trimming.

Corylopsis is hardy in USDA zones 4-7. They are deciduous which provides me with leaf mulch and the bare branches don’t get broken by our fiercest winter winds. They do well in our acidic soil and only need average water. They like sun or partial shade. As always, the further north you go the more sun they can take. Northern gardeners like me can plant them in full sun but in the hotter Southern climates they may need some dappled shade during the heat of the day. The flowers open in pendulous clusters on leafless branches. They are a soft pale yellow, which fit perfectly into my mostly purple, blue and pale yellow color scheme. Sorry I can’t tell you how long I’ve had it to give you an indication of how long it will take to grow to 12 feet tall. I got it before I started writing the purchase date on the tags of plants, but resources say it’s slow growing. I did splurge and buy one that was already 6 feet (1.8m) tall or so…I wanted the space to fill in fast, so if I had to guess I’d say 6-7 years. When buying any tree or shrub, make sure the branching on the specimen you choose is nicely spaced and pleasing to the eye. A crooked or angled trunk will probably not ‘straighten’ out after you plant it.

And fragrance! It is very subtle initially. Your new, small plant won’t perfume your whole garden…yet. In fact you may have to get your nose right up to it, but naturally as the tree grows and increases in volume you’ll have many more flowers. Today, depending on wind direction, I get a nice perfume when I walk by or often a breeze carries it to me further back in the garden. But alas, I wanted more fragrance, and I like repetition in the garden, so I bought another! Can’t wait till the newbie gets bigger and the scent doubles!
Fragrance in the garden must be what is meant by the term, 'breathe in the beauty'.

My only regret is that the honeybees are not impressed with its nectar or pollen. They just don’t go for it. I chose this tree long before I became a beekeeper, so my criterion was not about bees. Would I have chosen differently if I had been a beekeeper? Probably, and I would have missed out on this fabulous plant. Would I choose it again for a future garden? Most decidedly yes! I just love it.

In Bloom In My Garden Today: Corylopsis veitch (Winter Hazel), Mahonia, Muscari (Grape Hyacinths), Hyacinths, Tulipa turkistanica, Hepatica, Daffodil, primrose (double English), Heleborus, Bellis perennis (English daisy), violet primrose

Author’s photos

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