In the depth of winter, when most of my zone 6 garden is hibernating, there is the most magnificent blooming tree in my garden. It seems as if overnight, the bare limbs of this tree are filled with clusters of feathery flowers up and down its branches. Their fragrance is intoxicating and beguiling. The spidery flowers with long crinkly petals vary in color from yellow to golden orange and burgundy.
A more enchanting tree to grow in winter is hard to find. Throughout the winter months, I cut bouquets of flowering branches to give as gifts. Recipients are always delighted and enchanted by the beauty and fragrance of these bouquets and always surprised when I tell them the tree blooms in winter. A single branch makes for the simplest of sculptural arrangement. I find it is still rather unknown where I live and I am on a quest to change that!
Hamemelis is an easy to grow, deciduous tree. It is pest and disease resistant with low maintenance appeal and handsome form. I have written about witch hazels before. Gardenista featured them recently. There are many varieties of Hamemelis and the Chicago Botanic Garden has an excellent guide for choosing the right witch hazel tree for your area as does the Canadian Bloomingwriter. Some varieties will bloom in fall rather than in winter. Come spring, the flowers are replaced by handsome foliage, large oval-shaped leaves with crinkled edges, which emerge pale green and mature into a darker green. In fall, the leaves turn a gorgeous bronze with a velvety purple underside. A four season stunner!
Native Americans were the first to boil down the bark, leaves and twigs of the native species of witch hazel, Hamemelis virginia, into an elixir they called magic water for its health benefits. Their knowledge of the witch hazel’s curative powers was passed on to the first settlers and today witch hazel “magic water” is available in drug stores everywhere, its popularity enduring.
I love to change my front door wreaths seasonally. After I take down Valentines’ day, it is a bit early for a floral wreath. I cut a big bouquet of witch hazel and place it in a Longaberger basket that I’ve fitted with a loop of florist wire to create a hanging hook.
The basket has a plastic liner. I cut a piece of oasis to fit and soak it before securing the branches in it. The moisture helps extend the duration of the bouquet. I wrap burgundy velvet ribbon on the rim to capture the color in the center of my blooms. Velvet seems the perfect luxurious choice to adorn a winter basket.
For a finishing touch, I pinned an amber-colored brooch in the center of the bow for a bit of bling and sparkle. This little basket greets visitors with the most heavenly scent. No matter that the groundhog announced 6 more weeks of winter….This basket is a cheerful harbinger of spring, right around the corner! If you don’t have witch hazel to cut for a late winter front door basket, you could adapt this idea with pussy willow, forsythia or or other flowering branches.
I hope I have helped you fall in love with witch hazel too. Small plants can be ordered online, and one of my favorites is from Jefferson’s Monticello garden store, here. Happy winter!!!