The first of anything we do is always so memorable isn’t? From our first time cycling without stabilisers, first night away from the family home, first alcholic drink followed by first drink in the pub legally and of course, your first clumbsy kiss!. It’s the same for us gardeners, I can still remember the first seeds planted, helping my Dad in the family vegatable garden, something that sowed the seeds of love in a truly wonderful career, one that you never ever stop learning something new from nature itself. For me, starting out as a 16yr old YT student at Mottisfont Abbey Gardens, planting my first tree was even more of a special thing, the tree to start with, was a Pinus wallichiana, the Bhutan pine. This was the tree that developed my love of pine trees, where indeed our plants came from and also started my interest in the history of the plants and the plant hunters, who risked their lives to bring us stunning plants to enjoy in our gardens. This one tree sowed a big seed that is still growing and improving with age, so much like the tree it’s self that is now become the big feature within the winter garden at Mottisfont and will hopefully live much longer than me, inspiring other young people into the world of horticulture.
Hamamelis or witch hazels as they are more commonly know, are truly the stars of the winter! Their beautiful spider like flowers enrich our lives in the garden, not only with their beauty but also their scent. The scent smells so sweet on the cold January and February air that it helps to lift the spirits from the winter blues. But don’t let that fool you, take a closer smell of each flower, some sadly aren’t that scented, others you get the scent of vanilla, others coconut, sweet spices and other sweet intoxicating scents I just can’t place. Each one just smells so different. They also can look stunning in the autumn months with some great autumn colour of rich reds, oranges and yellow coming though.
But why are they called witch hazels? Could it be they bewitch us with their spring beauty just like the beautiful women of old, who men fell in love with, but sadly spurred their advances, so were branded a witch for putting a spell on them and suffered the ducking stool or being burned at the stake for no fault of their own? But no, sadly the name comes from an old English word wiche/wice meaning pliable/bendable. It’s thought the new settlers in America just used a old familiar name to a new plant they found. The name Hamamelis comes from Greek words Hama meaning same time and melon, from the shape of the seeds. The seeds on H.virginana are borne at the same time as the flowers.
Hamamelis belong to the genera Hamamelidaceae with 4 species from both North America and E.Asia. They grow best on a neutral or acid soil that holds moisture well. Loves to be planted with lots of organic matter. They are pretty easy to look after as well, with the only pruning required is to remove weak growth if required to do so after they have finished flowering. Many plants are grafted so watch out for root stock coming up and remove when they occur. Best to do it when they are flowering to avoid removing the wrong ones. You can prune they back hard if required but they do take a long time to recover from this.
The collection at Sir Harold Hiller Gardens has roots far back in time. Sir Harold Hillier was friends with Jelena and Robert de Belder, who bred many of the hybrids at Kalmthout Arboretum in Belgium. They now hold the Plant Hertiage National Collection of Hamamelis within the gardens as well as 13 other collections, the biggest number held by one garden.The collection of 140 named cultivars and speices (some are herbarium specimens only sadly) is now spread around the gardens, with most of the plants in the Winter Garden and in Ten Acres East, just near the redeveloped Centennial border. This is also the area I first discovered them, I can still remember the day to this day, it was a cold January day, soon after I had started working there as a young 18yr old, just starting out in the big world of horticulture. I arounded a bend when this smell just hit me, what is it? where does it come from?, what on earth could be producing this stunning scent? So I started looking and saw the red, orange and yellow haze in the trees, I had to look closer! And they looked and smelt even more beautiful! From that moment on, my love affair started with them and it is stil going strong to this day!
These plants below are just a small selection of the speices and forms that can be found at Sir Harold Hillier Gardens. There are loads more there waiting for your eyes and noses to discover them!
Hamamelis x intermediais a cross between H. japonica and H. mollis. The leaves are pretty large and these tend not to be the strongest smelling of all the Hamamelis. The flowers tend to be from 2-3cm+ in size and borne January-March.
H.x intermedia ‘Jelena’ (left)is one of the best, flowers are large and a coppery red colour borne on a spreading vigorous plant. Also one of the best for autumn colour. Raised at Kalmthout Arboretum and named after one of the owners and friend to Sir Harold, Jelena de Belder, received Award of Merit (1955) and Award of Garden Merit (1984) by the RHS.
H. x intermedia ‘Moonlight’ (right)again is large shrub with large pale sulphur-yellow flowers that are highly scented, leaves turn yellow in the autumn
H.x intermedia ‘Cyrille’ (left) a good open vase shaped shrub that carries these large flowers best described as strawberry base going to staw-yellow. good scent. introduced in 2002 from the de Belder hybrids.
H.x intermedia ‘Strawberries and Cream’ (right) This delightful form should be more at home at wimbledon than the winter garden. It has a slight scent to go with the yellow tipped red flowers.
H.x intermedia ‘Vesna’ (left) named after the Russian Goddess of spring and it couldn’ have a better name! the yellow flowers with a red base are highly scented and large as well. Autumn colour is good, with shades of red, yellow and orange
H.x intermedia ‘Orange Peel’ (right)A lovely form, one of my favourites, almost for the name alone. a great orange clone thats well scented and has great autumn colour of mixed red, orange and yellow.A de Belder raised form.
H. x intermedia ‘Ripe Corn’ (left) What a brilliant name! For me the brightest of all the yellow forms. Another one raised by the de Belder’s
H. x intermedia ‘Pallida’ (right)One of the best and most popular of all flowering forms with very good sweet scent and good yellow autumn colour. Won a RHS Award of Merit in 1932
Hamamelis mollisis a Known as the Chinese Witch Hazel. The leaves are more rounded and large soft and hairy with generally speaking yellow autumn colour. The flowers are highly sweetly scented, normally different shades of yellow and mainly over 2.5cm in size. They are bourne from December to March. They were introduced by C.Maries (H.mollis ‘Coombe Wood’) 1879, then Augustine Henry (H.mollis Boskoop’)and then by E.H.Wilson a bit later.
Hamamelis mollis ‘Boskoop’(left) was a form grown in Holland as straight mollis until 1988 when it was decided it was indeed a slightly different form and was named. Thought to be from the seeds collected by Augustine Henry around 1890.
H.mollis ‘Wisley Supreme’ (right)again has large highly scented pale yellow flowers and was selected from a large old plant growing at RHS Wisley.
H.mollis ‘Princeton Gold’ (left)This lovely form was found growing in some seedlings at Princeton Nurseries, New York. Good form with good scent and drops it leaves quicly in the Autumn.
H.mollis ‘Early Bright’ (right) One of the first of the H.mollis forms to flower with a beautiful scent. Tends to hold onto its leaves into the winter months
H.mollis ‘Jermyns Gold’ (left) believed to be part of the original seedling from Ernest Wilsons introduction but like ‘Boskoop’ has been found to be a better form. Very good yellow coloured autumn colour.
Hamamelis japonica is also know as the Japanese Witch Hazel. It is a large spreading shrub with more of a diamond shaped leaf that H.mollis and the flowers are also a little bit smaller 2-3cm in size. Very good autumn colour.
H.japonica ‘Rubra’(left) is the red form, upright grower and not too highly scented, not too highly scented.
H.japonica ‘Sulphurea’ (right) Again small pale sulphur yellow flowers with a little sweet scent, borne on a large spreading shrub.
Hamamelis vernalis. Izard Witch Hazel as it is more commonly known, is a wide spreading shrub, native to America, that tend to have very small flowers not often bigger than 2mm in size and range from pale yellow to red, borne in January and February. They can be heavily scented. They tend to turn a yellow colour in the autumn.
H.vernalis ‘Autumn Embers’ (left) Was selected by Roy Klehm of Beaver Creek Nurseries, Illinois, USA in 1995 and starts red at the base before going to a coppery-red at the tips, with good scent as well. It has great red autumn colour.
H.vernalis ‘Dora county in Arkansaw’ (right)it has tiny tiny coppery colour flowers with good scent, borne on a spreading shrub.
Hamamelis virginana. More commonly known as the American Witch Hazel. This is the speices that is commercial grown for its bark and leaves that are made into the Witch Hazel lotion used as a astringent and applied to the skin for the treatment of things like burns, insect bites, swellings and other skin complaints. It was originally used by the native Americans before being discovered in 1789. The flowers are very small and not too highly scented and tend to be borne much earlier than others, really from September to November. It grows to about 6m tall with the leaves being more oval than other forms with great autumn colour. It’s not really grown as a garden plant but is used as a root stock to graft other forms of Hamamelis too.
This is a very small range of Hamamelis that are on show at Sir Harold Hillier Gardens and it’s well worth a visit at anytime. it was established by the great plantsman Sir Harold Hillier in 1953 with a aim of bringing together the biggest comprehensive collection of trees and shrubs and now covers 180 acres. it was gifted to Hampshire County Council in 1977. as well as 14 national collections, it currently has one of the largest collection of champion trees. It is open every day apart from Christmas Day and Boxing Day. It costs from £9.90 for adult to enter.It is also a RHS partner garden with free access for members in January and Febuary. The other national collection holder is Witch Hazel Nursery, The Granary, Cranbrook Farm, Sittingbourne, Kent.
Full website is http://www3.hants.gov.uk/hilliergardens/hillier-info.htm. It can be found Jermyns Lane, Romsey, Hampshire, SO51 0QA
Winter is a brilliant time of year to admire bark on trees and Prunus sp can be some of the best. P.serrula with its polished mahogany bark is certainly a true gem of the speices but there’s another one that also maybe should be pushing for that crown and that’s the rare and sort after P. Himalaica! This tree has the darkest colour bark of any tree I have had the delight to see growing in our gardens. The red-brown colour is almost black in places and does tend to peel more than other Prunus as well. It makes a small tree that would be ideal for small gardens, it tends to be multi stemmed tree with soft hairy leaves. The flowers aren’t particularly stunning, pale and borne in the spring. It will grow in most soils and loves a bit of sun. It was only discovered in 1965 by Tony Schilling while plant hunting in the Langtang Valley, Nepal and then grown from seed in the U.K. Tony Schilling is one of the great modern plant hunters, who has introduced many great plants into the modern garden.
I first discovered P.himalaica growing at RHS Wisley growing on Battleston Hill, The Sir Hillier Gardens also do list it on the plant search tool they have. It’s well worth visiting either garden and see this beautiful tree growing, my photos don’t give enough justice to the tree itself.
There are a few nurseries that do sell it, Pan Global Plants list it as well as some other beautifuL plants
Chimonathus praecox or wintersweet/ice flower orginates from China and was introduced as far back as 1766. It is a member of Calycanthacea, its the Chinese arm of the mainly North American based family. There’s 6 members of the family but only 1 is really widely grown within our gardens.
It is a beautiful winter flowering shrub comes complete with a very sweet scent coming from its a dirty lemon colour flowers with a little red base at their bottom. They are often covered in theses flowers from November to end of February. They tend to flower better on plants that are older than 5 years old. They can be grown both as a free standing shrub and also as a wall shrub, if grown as a free standing shrub, it required very little pruning unless it’s required, and then its best to thin out weaker wood, thin out some shoots and older branches reduced down to 30cm in length. If grown against a wall, the old growths can be thinned and removed and the last years growth that’s just finished flowering, can be reduced down to 3-4 buds. This pruning is best carried out in March after its finishes flowering. It will take a harder prune if required but don’t expect any flowers for a few years. On a wall they can make a plant of about 10ft or free standing around 8ft. They will also grow on most soils including chalk quite happy but prefer a sunny spot like up against a south or west facing wall
There are 3 cultivars that are pretty widely available
‘Grandiflorus’ It has a deeper yellow flowers with the red base more pronounce. Award of Merit 1928
‘Luteus’ It has larger and more of a waxy yellow flower that lack the redness of praecox and ‘Grandiflorus. Award of Merit 1948
‘Trenython’ slightly more scented and more of a pale cream colour with a maroon centre
They can be found from most good suppliers and can be found in most bigger gardens although there’s a great specimen at RHS Wisley.
Tobisho SR-1 Secateurs
All my working life, I have only ever used 1 make of secateurs and indeed many many pairs of a famous Swiss make. It would take something special to move away from them. My secateurs are my most used bit of kit and I look after them like my life depends on them (well my livelihood does!) it was going to be something special to take the place of them, many have tried but to be honest just aren’t good enough for me, the way I use them and the way they cut, they have all just felt wrong. Then I picked up these bad boys! From the moment I picked them up, the quality just oozes out of them, they came in a very attractive Japanese box, wrapped carefully in greaseproof paper, it almost felt like Christmas, once out of the box, they felt so comfortable in my hand with the plastic coated handles helped to move them around in my hand which again is important. I hold my secateurs both on the handles and also more towards the blade, just so the blade is poking up out of my hands, I found switching them around in the different positions very easy. The catch was an initial concern for me, being on the bottom of the secateurs and pretty chunky, but after a couple of goes found it easy to close by using my body to push it back shut and just flicking the catch off. Only downside is sometimes you can accidently flick it across whilst using them and stops the secateurs from cutting fully but that’s just a minor thing that you learn to watch out for. One major advantage of the catch has to the ease you can pull it out of the holster! No trying to grab the handle and sliding over the place with wet gloved hands, just finger in the catch and pull, bingo out they come!
Quality of the cut for me is the most important thing, I am a stickler for having a nice clean cut, after all we are preforming surgery on the plants and we would hate it if the surgeon left horrible jagged cuts on us wouldn’t we. These from day one produced brilliant sharp cuts on wood up to 20mm thick with ease. No straining on my wrists either. The sharpness is another thing I obsess about, they have to be sharp, normally my days pruning starts with a 1-minute touch-up but on with these secateurs, in 4 months of use, I have touched them twice after they failed the razor sharp test. That is with some serous use as well. The Japanese Yasuki YCS-3 high carbon steel really produces a blade that holds it edge and is easy to maintain that sharp edge. Indeed, the couple of times I have touched them up took be about 30 seconds to get them back to the sharpness I require. They have also never worked loose during the time I have used them and have never needed any tightening up during the working day.
The length is slightly longer than my old Swiss made pair at 20cm (8”) but I found it didn’t really make a major difference to me. The slight weight reduction from the secateurs being made from single piece of metal, did however make a slight difference after a day of using them all day and I have felt a slight reduction in fatigue in my hands.
The only things I have noticed is that during the working day, they need a little bit of oil (camellia oil if possible) added to them to stop a little squeaking and without any rubber cushions they do make a chunk sound when the 2 blades meet. After a few days I didn’t really notice the clunk to be honest and it does make it sound like you are hard at work!
In all after 5 months of use, these have become my tool of use for pruning woody plants, they are sharp, pretty maintenance free, easy and comfortable to use. That statement is one I thought I never would make about any other make of secateurs, it just shows how high I rate these secateurs. Would I recommend them to everyone, possibly not, these are not designed to do other things I have seen secateurs used for like cutting wire, stones, opening things up, hammering in nails etc. If you use yours in that way, then the high carbon steel blades won’t last that well for you and it will be a waste of money for you. HOWEVER of you use your secateurs for what they are designed to do i.e. pruning plants only then yes these are well worth you spending your hard earnt money one and will make pruning even more enjoyable than it is already for you. They are now my first choice for pruning and I can’t see them losing that mantle for a long time to come
You can buy them from www.niwaki.com where they are priced at £79.00.They do come with a spare spring as well as a stunning box!
I just love January! For me it’s the real start to the new gardening year. December is mainly finishing off clearing the last of the years growth, from the last few weeds, the last of the skeletons from the herbecous plants and the never ending drift of leaves should be finally finshed. The whole thing I feel, is just so negative, coupled with the days getting shorter and the run up to Christmas, certainly leave me feeling slightly down in the dumps.
But January, glorious january, makes me happy once more. Everything from this time onwards is gettting the gardens and plants ready for the new session. My favourite jobs start up again Pruning! I just can’t get enough of it personally. I start with the fruit trees including the apples and pears, the wall shrubs like wisteria, oh the joy of using my secateurs, string, untangling the mass of stems, just like a ball of wool after a kitten has played with it! It’s enough to get me out of the bed in the cold mornings. I just love leaving the plant all trimmed up and pruned once more into a stunning shape, one that will add structure within the winter.
It is of course well worth making sure your clothes are good enough to cope with the possible wet and certainly cold weather, even more so when you are up a ladder with the wind whistling into any bare patches of skin, lowering your body temperature and making you feel cold and miserable! But it’s also important not to have too many layers or too thick layers, otherwise it can make life just as hard trying to do anything dressed like the Michelin man. I make sure I have a good base layer unit on, one that’s used in mountaineering, this helps to keep my body warm and remove any moisture from the skin, then followed by my Genius work trousers that I just love, top wise it’s my fleece jumper with a body warmer next with a windbeater goretex fleece or coat on top of that. My head is always covered and if it gets very cold I add a snood to keep out the cold. Glove wise haven’t found anything better than the Goldleaf range of gloves. Now I can enjoy the winter work
One other thing to enjoy is the winter plants that have started to flower around the garden. Plants like Helllebores, Hammalis, Galanthus and Viburnums can be found most days, sharing both the delightful flowers and sometimes the stunning scent that can be flowing around the garden. Another reason to enjoy being outside at this time of year.
Well that’s it for this months overview, I shall be back soon with a few other posts in January before the next monthly blog in February
I have moved to this one as the software on my old site just wasnt that user friendly and was taking me ages to write and set my blogs. Hopefully it will make it easier for you all to enjoy as well follow my blogs as I update them as well.
Theres also a better category area, diary for my up and coming talks and my twitter feed.
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My old Blogs
workshop on winter propagationNovember 19, 2019 at 8:45 am – 9:45 amSculpture by the LakesnPallington, Dorchester, Dorset DT2 8QU, England
workshop on redesigning and renovationg tired bordersNovember 26, 2019 at 9:30 am – 10:30 amSculpture by the LakesnPallington, Dorchester, Dorset DT2 8QU, England
talk on winter flowering plants for windrush garden clubNovember 26, 2019 at 8:00 pm – 8:45 pmStandlake Village HallnWitney, OX29 7SB, England
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All text and Photos are copyright @ Thomas Stone2017.