Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Witch hazels and other midwinter wonders

It is only my first winter in Seattle, but I already disagree with all reports of a rainy and dull place that would better be avoided. Instead, I have fallen in love with these foggy and cold winter days; just look what I enjoyed this morning in the Washington Park Arboretum, only a couple of minutes drive across the lake. So many beauties flowering in the middle of January, gently wrapped in the fog, giving themselves off by their delicate scents! I first went to see the witch hazel collection in the Southern end of the Arboretum, but surprisingly none of the plants there were flowering. But then, I fortunately had better luck in the Witt Winter Garden, near the visitors centre.

Most of the witch hazels at the Arboretum are of the Chinese species Hamamelis mollis or Hamamelis x intermedia, which is a hybrid between the Japanese witch hazel Hamamelis x japonica and H. x mollis. Especially lovely is the excellent, strongly scented cultivar of H. X intermedia 'Pallida', here in full bloom, looking like clusters of lemon zest are hanging from its branches.

Another beautiful, but less scented cultivar is Hamamelis x intermedia 'Winter beauty', with much darker orange petals. I just love the way the damp climate here makes mosses and lichens to grow so well and to cover many of the woody plants, often looking like green flowers themselves hanging to the branches.

The stinking helleborus, Helleborus foetida, with its pale green flowers in full bloom complements well the witch hazels.
The European hazel, Corylus avellana, is quite common in the wild in Sweden, and my garden in Sweden had many of these large shrubs growing around it and producing small, dry nuts late in the autumn. Commercially cultivated hazels are called filberts. They are most often hybrids between Corylus avellana and Corylus maxima, the giant filbert, which achieves thirty feet and produces large, edible nuts. Corylus maxima 'Atropurpurea Superba', seen here with its large, purple catkins, is a beautiful and unusual relative of these cultivated hazels.

A new find was the fragrant wintersweet, Chimonanthus praecox, which flowers for the moment with a strong and sweet, hyacinth-like scent. It seems otherwise to be quite an unattractive shrub, a bit like the more common forsythias, but in the right place, where it can hide behind showy perennials during the summer months, it definitely earns its place in a garden for its scent.

Another "friend" from my time in Melbourne, Australia is the silk-tassel bush, Garrya elliptica that I used to admire when it was flowering in the middle of the mild Australian winter. This genus was actually named for Nicholas Garry, a Secretary of the Hudson’s Bay Company who assisted David Douglas in his explorations of the Pacific North-West in the 1820s. It is both an evergreen and a drought tolerant plant, and native to woodlands in Western USA, Central America and the West Indies. The male catkins are the most attractive, just like for so many other early flowering plants as hazels and birches. An especially attractive cultivar with extra long tassels is Garrya x issaquahensis (pictured above), cross that was found in a private garden in Issaqua near Seattle for some years ago.

And just one more picture - I just loved this bird's nest up in a large Magnolia, full of silky buds. What a beautiful place for the small baby birds to start their lives in when they hatch in the spring!


Safi Crafts said...

It was so nice to meet you yesterday at SAGBUTT. This is my first visit to your blog and I am enjoying it very much.
I think a few of us are intrigued by your knowledge of garden history and would like to find out more some time. Do you ever lecture or teach?

The Intercontinental Gardener said...

Hi Jean, I had actually visited your blog earlier, and your paintings are really intriguing (I love the sad little bunny...). I haven't teached in the garden history area, but I have given lectures and also written articles in Sweden. As I said, I am just looking around for the moment and trying to figure out how to continue my path within gardening and garden history here...