Featured Plant No. 8 – Hamamelis mollis

Hamamelis mollis in the Winter Border at Chartwell

Hamamelis mollis in the Winter Border at Chartwell

If you are experiencing any post-Crimbo or New Year blues or just fancy seeing something to brighten up your day, you could a lot worse than come and visit us in the gardens here at Chartwell right now! There is plenty to see and do and one plant in particular is catching everyone’s eye at the moment. Our Winter Border may be only 18 months old but it is still well worth a look, if only to let your eyes and nostrils experience the Hamamelis mollis, as seen in the picture above.

Also known as the Chinese Witch Hazel, this specimen is one of three Hamamelis shrubs in our Winter Border which itself can be found at the bottom of the Orchard, on the other side of the wall from the Kitchen Garden. I planted these shrubs so that their flowering times would be staggered to increase the period of interest. H. mollis is the first to strut its horticultural stuff, but a little patience will be rewarded with the following…

This Hamamelis x intermedia 'Barmstedt Gold' is just starting to bloom...

This Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Barmstedt Gold’ is just starting to bloom…

...while this shot from last year of our Hamamelis vernalis 'January Pride' shows what you can expect to see in a few weeks.

…while this shot from last year of our Hamamelis vernalis ‘January Pride’ shows what you can expect to see in a few weeks.

Originally found by European plant hunter Charles Maries, Hamamelis mollis was introduced to England in 1879 for Veitch Nurseries and given the clonal name ‘Coombe Wood’. Then in 1918, another great plant collector, Ernest Henry Wilson, introduced further plants from a different area of China that were better suited to our climate. H. mollis is a native of the West Hubei and Kiangsi provinces and grows naturally in scrub and woodland from 1500m to 2500m. The selected forms of the plant that you or I could buy in the local garden centre are usually grafted onto the vigorous North American Hamamelis virginiana to improve the growth habit, rather than grown on their own roots.

Our Chinese Witch Hazel in all its early January glory

Our Chinese Witch Hazel in all its early January glory

Hamamelis aren’t just pleasing to look at though. The scented flowers also smell pretty darn good too. In fact, you will often find that most flowers blooming in the Winter have strong scents because they have to work that much harder to attract any pollinating insects to them. Another bonus tick in the box for the humble Hamamelis is the well known medicinal properties it can offer. The soothing, mildly antiseptic properties of the distillate from witch hazel bark have been known for many years and it is still used in medicine that you can buy today. These healing properties were recognised by early settlers in North America, and it is thought that they gave the plant its common ‘witch hazel’ name.

There are two schools of thought as to how the Hamamelis got its scientific name though. One is that ‘hamamelis’ is the greek name for ‘pear shaped fruit’ and has lent itself to this shrub due to its oval or pear-shaped leaves. The other is that the greek word ‘hama’ means ‘together’ and ‘mela’ means ‘fruit’, referring to the fact that this shrub presents both its leaves and fruit at the same time. The Latin term ‘mollis’ means ‘soft’, and refers to the felted leaves.

One of of witch hazels with a bit of technical jiggery pokery thrown at it!

One of of witch hazels with a bit of technical jiggery pokery thrown at it!

The branches of the witch hazel are also pliant and were originally used for water divining. Hamamelis mollis in particular was given the Award of Garden Merit by the Royal Horticultural Society in 1922. The flowering stems can also be cut and used in floral arrangements at a time of year when there is perhaps little else to bring into the house.

So the next time you’re visiting Churchill’s gardens, come along to the Winter Border where along with our impressive witch hazels, you might also spot some of the following…

Our Sarcococca confusa plants are looking and smelling fantastic right now...

Our Sarcococca confusa plants are looking and smelling fantastic right now…

...while our various coloured Cornus stems are also a sight to behold.

…while our various coloured Cornus stems are also a sight to behold.

Our heathers at the top of the border like this Erica carnea 'Springwood White' are in full swing at the moment...

Our heathers at the top of the border like this Erica carnea ‘Springwood White’ are in full swing at the moment…

...and you can always rely on our Leucothoe fontanesiana 'Rainbow' shrubs to dazzle no matter what time of year it is!

…and you can always rely on our Leucothoe fontanesiana ‘Rainbow’ shrubs to dazzle no matter what time of year it is!

Jamie

Advertisements

3 Comments

Filed under Plants

3 responses to “Featured Plant No. 8 – Hamamelis mollis

  1. Beautiful! Witch hazels are excellent! Do you still have Orfe in the pond that Sir Winston used to sit beside contemplating affairs of the day?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s