Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Hazels Just Right for Witching Hour

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Hazels Just Right for Witching Hour

Article excerpt

Byline: By Peter Surridge

Witch hazels are just the thing to spread a little magical light as we head for the depths of the darkest season. They are large shrubs or small trees that grow slowly to 2.5m-3.6m (8ft-12ft) in height.

But, from an early age, they produce flowers that are delightful and unmistakable, like giant spiders made of ribbons, generally in shades of yellow and orange, but also in copper and red.

The blooms appear on the straggling branches in chilly winter before the leaves open, creating a spidery effect ( a combination of flowers in clusters, each one having four petals up to 5cm (2in) long.

The paler varieties not only have alluring fragrance but become a vision to stop anyone in their tracks when they catch the slightest shaft of winter sunlight. Set against the background of an evergreen hedge, they are a sheer delight. The less common, dark-flowered kinds such as wine-red `Diane' (pictured) and `Carmine Red' are more mysterious ( you notice the fragrance but do not normally detect its source so easily. But either sort is a delight in any garden.

Witch-hazels, botanically Hamamelis species, are plants of woodland edge, so they are at home in light shade, either as single plants or, in larger gardens, grouped along the edge of a shrubbery. Different species originated from North America and Asia.

The native North Americans discovered the tree's healing properties, producing a concoction by boiling the leaves and stems.

The potion was later used by European settlers to heal cuts, grazes, inflammation, insect bites, sunburn and muscular aches. By the 19th Century a bottle of witch-hazel extract was widely used in Britain as a skin tonic and is still an ingredient in treatments for teenage skin problems.

The species used for medical purposes is Virginian witch-hazel, Hamamelis virginiana, but two other species and their many varieties are more impressive in gardens.

First, there's the Chinese witch-hazel, Hamamelis mollis , a tall shrub reaching 3.6m (12ft) with golden flowers and leaves which turn yellow in autumn. The variety `Coombe Wood' has blooms with an extra-strong scent while `Goldcrest' has red tinges at the base of the petals. …

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