The flowers of Hamamelis bring respite from the dreary grey of winter. There’s something rather special about seeing the clusters of flowers against bare branches at a time when most woody plants seem to be dormant. The most commonly encountered Hamamelis seem to be from H. x intermedia, hybrids between H. japonica and H. mollis; some cultivars are more influenced by one parent more than the other.
Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Pallida’ (above) is probably the best known, thanks to its fairly free flowering and notable perfume. On a gloomy day the pale lemon flowers almost seem to glow, as if the bare branches are dusted with some other-wordly radioactive substance! This plant is superb, usually easy to find in nurseries and without doubt a worthy candidate for more suitable gardens. The history of this plant is surprisingly vague for such a well regarded plant, although it’s understood that the plant originated at the Royal Horticulture Society’s garden at Wisley, UK. One theory is that it arrived at Wisley as a seed sent from a Dutch nursery (possibly actually Kalmthout Arboretum in Belgium!), while another theory is that it originated as a chance seedling at Wisley, with H. mollis var. pallida as a seed parent and H. japonica ‘Arborea’ nearby. Either way material of this clone was shared with a few interested parties in the 1940s, was offered by Richmond Nurseries in 1953, and received a First Class Certificate (FCC) from the RHS in 1958. I believe that this was when it was first formally named. Since then it has rightly become popular in temperate gardens and arboreta around the world, and has received three stars from the Royal Boskoop Horticultural Society (the highest award) and an Award of Garden Merit (AGM) from the RHS.
Another excellent yellow Hamamelis x intermedia is ‘Arnold Promise’, valued for being floriferous and with a compact habit (so lots of flowers in a small space!), and it’s usually fairly late so useful in very cold areas. As the name suggests, this cultivar originated at the Arnold Arboretum in the USA, but like H. ‘Pallida’ it has gained international popularity. The third yellow I would like to touch on here is H. ‘Barmstedt Gold’ (below), although the shade of yellow is deeper than both previous cultivars. This rather large-flowered cultivar was originally raised by Heinrich Bruns of Westerstede in Germany, but was named by J. Hachmann of Barmstedt (also Germany) in 1975. It’s slowly becoming popular among gardeners; once you’ve seen its clusters of 25mm (1”) long golden yellow petals you’ll probably become enamoured with this plant too! While neither H. ‘Arnold Promise’ nor H. ‘Barmstedt Gold’ are as strongly perfumed as H. ‘Pallida’ both should be accessible so that their perfume can be enjoyed.
H. ‘Jelena’ is usually very early, almost flowering in the autumn in my region. Its orange flowers are of exquisite beauty and a delight to see. I personally much prefer the orange cultivars to the reds, but the reds aren’t without merit. The reds are primarily avoided by gardeners due to their lack of perfume, and I suppose this is probably a good enough reason, but my main issue with the reds is that their flowers always seem rather small and inconspicuous. When viewed closely the flowers have the same enchanting beauty of other Hamamelis, but you really do have to see them up close to enjoy them. I have personal experience of two cultivars, H. x intermedia ‘Diane’ and H. x intermedia ‘Ruby Glow’ (both below). H. ‘Diane’ was raised by Robert and Jelena (of Hamamelis ‘Jelena’) de Belder in 1969, and was raised at Kalmthout. Diane de Belder is their daughter, and her Hamamelis has fairly small deep red flowers. An earlier red de Belder cultivar, named in 1953, is H. ‘Ruby Glow’. It was originally raised from seed in 1935 but has been superseded by H. ‘Diane’. In the right place these are eminently worth growing, as is the purple cultivar ‘Amethyst’ (not H. x intermedia), but careful positioning is important if they are to be seen and enjoyed. I would recommend a light area, maybe with a light wall behind, with easy access for the discerning gardener to enjoy the flowers.
My favourite Hamamelis is H. x intemedia ‘Aphrodite’ (below) which is, in my opinion, the best H. x intermedia. Maybe I will one day place this fine cultivar in second place in my list of favourites, but for now it is my absolute number one choice. H. ‘Aphrodite’ was released by van Heijningen in 1985 and I hope that as it becomes more available it will be more widely planted. For me this is a ‘Goldilocks’ plant; the flowers are a rich orange but are bright and conspicuous (on a par with H. ‘Pallida’ for standing out!), and are borne profusely while not choking the pleasing habit of the plant. The perfume is excellent, and subject to the right conditions is often detected on the air some distance from the plant. Superb, just superb.
Hamamelis are fairly easy shrubs to grow, providing their neutral to acidic soil doesn’t get too dry during the summer. In areas with hot, dry summers it’s probably better to grow them in partial shade, but in more benign climates Hamamelis will grow happily in the open. While Hamamelis are often fairly large plants in time they can be pruned; shorten new growth to 2-3 buds after flowering to keep the plant smaller and more compact. That said, one of the great pleasures of Hamamelis is their open habit, so if it’s possible to give them lots of space then they will develop a beautiful shape. Hamamelis x intermedia cultivars can be wall-trained to charming effect.