Must be the Season of the Witch Alder : The Spellbinding Late Autumn Color of Fothergilla…

November 16th, 2009 § 4 comments

Fothergilla gardenii by the wall in NovemberWitch Alder, (Fothergilla major, ‘Mt. Airy’), in the sunny entry garden in mid November; luminous against the Secret Garden wall…

Oh, would you look at this beauty. Look at the magical, bright orange and yellow color, glowing in the grey November light. Is it any wonder they named her Witch Alder? She’s completely enchanting. All around her, the other shrubs have lost their foliage; standing naked in the garden. But in the last weeks of October, Witch Alder just begins to cast her autumn spell. From Halloween right on through Thanksgiving – I like to celebrate the season of this witch.

North American native Witch Alder, (Fothergilla major and Fothergilla gardenii), is one of the first shrubs to bloom come springtime, and one of the last to drop its leaves in late fall. Not only is she beautiful, but Witch-alder also provides a rich source of early-season nectar for bees and other insects; all held within pretty, bottle-brush, green-white blooms. Hardy in USDA zones 4-9, Witch-alder prefers moist but well drained soil, and performs best in sun to light shade. Dwarf Witch-alder, (Fothergilla gardenii), is an excellent small-scale garden shrub, reaching a height of 3-6 feet and a similar width. There is a beautiful, moody cultivar called ‘Blue mist’ that I saw for the first time, a few years back, in a friend’s garden. I was envious then, and I am still longing to add her to my garden. Large Witch Alder can reach 15 feet tall and 6 feet wide in ideal conditions, but the largest specimen I have seen here at the northern edge of the hardiness range was about half that size. I have a number of witches in my garden, (including the closely related Witch Hazel), and one of my favorites for autumn color the intermediate sized Witch Alder hybrid known as ‘Mt. Airy’, (shown here as noted).

So although they have the fake, fluffy snow and blinking Christmas decorations decking the halls at the Home Depot, I am choosing to ignore all that for now. It’s November, after all. There is so much to enjoy in the late autumn garden – why rush? My, it’s downright hypnotic out there on a warm, sunny day. Slow down and delight in all of this season’s magic and wonder. And don’t forget – it’s still the season of the witch…

Fothergilla leafThe technicolor foliage of Witch Alder, (Fothergilla major, ‘Mt. Airy’),  in early November…

Fothergilla gardenii inside the secret garden in NovemberDwarf Witch Alder (Fothergilla gardenii) in mid November, planted in a shady location inside the Secret Garden – note the difference in size and fall foliage color between cultivars…

Red twig dogwood, fothergilla, miscanthus, sedum, etc...Native Witch Alder, (Fothergilla major ‘Mt. Airy’) in a mixed border of shrubs planted for season-spanning bloom, color and texture…

fothergilla gardenii, early springWitch Alder (Fothergilla major ‘Mt. Airy’) provides early spring bloom in the entry garden

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Article and photographs copyright 2009, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

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§ 4 Responses to Must be the Season of the Witch Alder : The Spellbinding Late Autumn Color of Fothergilla…"

  • Victoria says:

    Michaela,

    This is all so beautiful and festive. It seemed to me that this year in upstate New York, we went from peak to bleak in a week.

    You are an enchantress, and I must figure out how to have a bright spot in my garden next year after the leaves have fallen before the snow flies.

    I hope Billy is recovering comfortably. I guess being in the hands of an enchantress is the best place to be at such times.

    But a little fried chicken couldn’t hurt.

    xoxo

  • Michaela says:

    Peak to Bleak is a really great line. I am going to quote you on that one. Yes. One night of wind and rain took everything else out. So the fothergilla really stands out in the twiggy landscape.
    Thanks for visiting, and I will pass your well wishes, (and hopefully your fried chicken), along to my patient.
    xo Michaela

  • […] One of my favorite early-spring blooming shrubs is very high on my list of ‘bests’ for autumn foliage. The native witch alder in my garden, (Fothergilla major and the compact Fothergilla gardenii), is currently smothered in beautiful white flowers and buzzing with honey bees. My tiny, winged garden guests are attracted to Fothergilla’s sweetly scented bottle brush blossoms and the ample pollen they provide in the early season. I absolutely adore this good garden ‘witch’, and long-time readers may recall my obsession with her late season color from my post on the subject last fall. If not, travel back and read more about this wonderful, woody plant by clicking here… […]

  • […] in April and May (read more about Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Diane’ by clicking here, and Fothergilla by clicking here). But it’s the witching hour — late October and November in my garden— when these […]

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