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A few days ago my son was visiting for lunch, and he questioned what was the the yellow cloud of blooms that he saw far down in the back of the garden (at least 150 feet away). Of course it was 'Arnold Promise' witch hazel, fully in bloom for the past ten days. Like Henry Mitchell, I garden in the mid Atlantic, and perhaps climate differences are the explanation for the author's lack of success with witch hazel, but be assured that it is a wonderful shrub if grown in a suitable environment.

I swallowed the Kool Aid and I am as disappointed as anyone with my non existent, non fragrant total no shows on the witch hazels I grow. But just a few miles away, at Broken Arrow Nursery in CT, big mature witch hazels bloom in glorious abandon. Beautiful, cloud-like wafts of showy flowers, deeply saturated reds and yellows and coppers, and so sweet smelling, each cultivar with its own scent. They are gorgeous from far away and up close. I'm back on the Kool Aid.

Maybe witch hazels have to be very mature to show their stuff? (Mine are still only 4 years old.)

I couldn't agree more - about how misleading and basically useless those ubiquitous close-ups are. They'd be fine if accompanied by full-plant photos but that's rarely done.
And I think there's something else going on besides trying to sell plants in the overuse of close-ups - it's far easier for photographers to find examples of single blooms and shoot them than to find examples of fully developed shrubs or masses of perennials and shoot them. Our loss.

I have felt your pain, Dr. Roush. Gardening lust for the big and beautiful equates with lots of disappointments (maybe there is a lesson here?)

My take: those blossoms are bad ass no matter how big or how profuse. Then again, I'm the type of woman who loves lichen, and alpine wildflowers.

I can't speak for Kansas, but in the Mid Atlantic region, witch hazels will knock your freaking socks off with their flower color and profusion. In my part of VA, they can be so full of flower that you can't see through them. I don't think it's a muturity thing since the three gallon plant I bought last spring and never got around to planting is now blooming it's head off in the pot. Bless your heart for living in Kansas. I love the "male bovine manure" line :)

Like Laurrie, Broken Arrow Nursery is close to me - seeing them might win you over, but trying to replicate it may drive you insane!

This is my current favorite

When I research plants to buy I want to see how the entire thing looks, not just the flower. Even Googling pics often brings me with oodles of close up shots. It's frustrating to say the least.

I love my Witch Hazels, especially one that has hundreds of flowers that are about the size of a quarter and wonderfully scented. It's still blooming now, as it has since January. I think it's Hamamelis vernalis, but it was given to me as H. virginiana. Its only drawback is that the leaves persist in winter. I have 3 other Witch Hazels that give a decent, but more subdued show. I first fell in love with them at the Atlanta Botanical garden, so perhaps its a climate thing.

Vegetable catalogues do the same thing. They entice us with photos of beautiful productive food plants, with bundles of fruit. Rarely is that reality.

They CAN be nice, but frequently aren't. Cultivar is important (and, as you mention, mislabeling is rampant). I have seen "Arnold's Promise" looking as bright as any forsythia. I've also seen many, many more extremely sad looking shrubs with only a flower dotted here and there.

I agree that flower closeups can be deceptive, but in whole plant photos flowers often recede into the background and plants look much less impressive than seeing them in person. The unique character of witch hazel is the ribbon like blooms which would appear to be hardly different from a common forsythia from a distance. Many flowers have distinctive coloration or patterns that are only obvious in a closeup, and in my garden I enjoy observing blooms from close rather than a distance.

I've the exact same beef with my 'Diane.' It's flowers have yellow in them when I thought they should be mostly red. Slow growing is an understatement, its flowering performance is spotty. From this, I've concluded a few things: 1. Witch hazels are understory trees, but they like a good root run. I think mine's underperformance is to local root thuggery. 2. They need loads of water to produce a lot of flowers. When I first put mine in, I was watering heavily, frequently, and it put out. Since it's establishment, not so much and, it must compete against the aforementioned root thuggery. 3. Witch hazels need a well-draining neutral to acidic soil with lots of loam. I figure this is the case because don't have it. 4. They do not bloom as advertised until they are mature specimens. Given how mine is growing, that should be in another 20 years. 5. I should have bought Arnold's Promise. Don't give into reds or oranges. Just go with a solid yellow with fragrance. Don't live in regret.

I wonder if plants at the limit of their hardiness range experience flower bud kill during the winter, thus leading to a disappointing spring display? In the Pacific NW, witch hazels typically bloom profusely. I also second the suggestion that plants need several years to settle in before they start to bloom heavily.

As someone mentioned earlier, witchhazel in the mid-Atlantic are amazing! They striking and fragrant in the landscape giving a lovely preview to the arrival of spring.

I'm in Seattle now and the witch hazels are blooming like crazy. I visited the collection at the Washington Park Arboretum this week and...

I am totally disappointed.

For years, I've lusted after them. But now that I've seen them in full glory, I will never want them again.

They're boring. They don't "pop". The colors appear muddy or washed out. I expected to be wowed but my first reactions was "That's it?"

I'm with Henry Mitchell on this one. At least in Brooklyn, the Hybrid Witchhazel show is pretty glorious this year both in close up and from a distance. The Kool-Aid is delicious and it isn't spiked with anything pscyhadelic.

I have some large, wild witchhazels at the edge of my wooded wetland. They're a lovely novelty: the fall foliage is a glorious yellow. Then the leaves fall off, and there is just a little yellow left, the last flowers of the season. They are easy to miss against the other autumn colors.

I work at a garden in NYC (not a gardener though) and our Witch Hazel is absolutely lovely right now. I saw some growing in St. Nicholas park and was also impressed by it's lovely yellow color in contrast to the dull dead leaves all around. My suspicion is that you are not in the right area.

I do love Witch hazels, but I am in love with anything in bloom right now--winters are tough! While not the blowziest of blooming shrubs I love the quirky multicolor spiders they produce at the dreariest of times. An established plant that gets the right combination of light and moisture will bloom profusely with varied amount of fragrance depending on variety, etc. What's not to like about that?

An up-close (of course) photo of 'Feuerzauber' blooms on my 6yr old Hamamelis is here at this link

I agree with the frustration at inaccurate representations of plants in catalogs.

BUT, I love witch hazels. Mine are blooming right now (in Pennsylvania). But part of their showiness is that they are blooming now when everything else is still brown and gray. The flowers are not large, gaudy or voluptuous, just sweet, bright and a joy because they are here NOW.

And you will get a better display after the plant has had a few years to get established.

No! Way!

I ADORE WITCH HAZELS! When I heard you that you were dissing witch hazels over here I had to come and read it for myself.

And what exactly is wrong about appreciating minutiae when they present themselves? Glory is in the details.

I'm sorry for the shameless links but pleeeeeeease go and see for yourself:

Being stopped in my tracks by a cloud of scent the other night in New York City. Source? Witch hazel on the other side of a garden fence.

Witch hazels aflame in the new Brooklyn Bridge Park

Blazing witch hazels in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden

Question - under what conditions do you grow your Jelena (and it does look too all-yellow, a bit more Pallida-ish)?

Jee-zuhs. Witchhazels are not some vixen-jezebel hybrid plotting against us. Look, no matter where you live, by January we are all pretty freakin' exicited to see ANYTHING flowering outside for days on end. Do any of us actually realize what a miracle that is?

I start salivating in December to see the lemon-yellow flowers on my witchhazel. And this year (in Seattle) they endured multiple drops in temp's. down to the high teens and kept blooming without batting an eye...for about a month!

Mr. Roush, you were had if someone sold you a Jelena...those have a rusty-orange bloom. In our gray, short days, such a color is hard to for PNWers, just stick with the yellow-flowers, you will drop to your knees and stick your nose in every little flower every single day in January and know why you are a gardener.

It's a fantastic plant if you have the space and buy from a reputable nursery.

And while we're on the subject of minute flowers on woody shrubs not worth a damn, let's add Sarcococca and Daphne. What an absolute bother when their fragrance drifts into my basement and circulates around the ENTIRE HOUSE for several weeks as it is doing right now.

Clearly they are just not happy growing in your garden. While I admit the individual flowers are small when an entire large established plant is in full bloom it is an impressive sight. Particularly on a cold snowy northeast day. And the first time you smell the fragrance filling the air you will stop in your tracks.

Pallida is in full bloom in my PA garden now; however, every year I have to go out with scissors and cut off the dried curled-up leaves which persist until Spring so that the blooms can be fully seen and appreciated. What a chore; now the shrub is too tall for me to reach the upper leaves. it is still very pretty when not much else is blooming.

Find out what witch hazels are grown on the High Line. They're gorgeous!

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