The Sweet Scent of Springtime: Bewitching Hamamelis Vernalis…

March 7th, 2011 § Comments Off on The Sweet Scent of Springtime: Bewitching Hamamelis Vernalis… § permalink

Sweetly Fragrant Hamamelis Vernalis: North American Native Vernal Witch Hazel, Cut from My Garden and Forced Inside

Copper-Orange Tassels of Witch Hazel Glow in the Afternoon Light

March, much like November, is a different month every year in New England. Some seasons, March skies are grey and late winter winds are cold; heavy snow falling long past the vernal equinox. And then there are years when March is soft; weeks of misty skies, melty temperatures and warm sunshine dancing on snow banks as they slowly disappear. This morning, I awoke to yet another ice storm —a quarter inch glaze coating trees and threatening my electrical supply— and a firm reminder that the chilly season of winter yet reigns.

Still —in spite of the relentless cold, freezing rain and mountains of snow— I know that spring is slowly coming. And during this time of transition, my anticipation always reaches a fever-pitch. I stalk the woody plants in my garden, watching for hints of color and swollen buds. And this year —with so much snow on the ground— I am especially grateful for the maturing shrubs and trees in my garden, rising above the frozen terrain…

In warmer years, Hamamelis vernalis —vernal witch hazel— blooms in early to mid-March. In colder years, this harbinger of springtime may be delayed past the equinox

Many of my favorite garden plants have two stellar seasons: spring and fall. And among my favorites, the family of Hamamelidaceae (the witch hazels) ranks very high indeed. Hamamelis vernalis —sometimes called Ozark or spring witch hazel— is native to the south-central regions of the United States and hardy in USDA zones 4-8. This is a tough, colonizing shrub; tolerant of poor, scrappy soil and a wide range of moisture levels. Vernal witch hazel is a great native plant for informal hedging, naturalizing along a woodland boundary or even for something as mundane as stabilizing a steep bank. Although her flowers aren’t nearly as large and showy as those of her more flamboyant Asian and hybrid cousins (read my post on Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Diane’ here), the perfume of her early, coppery-orange blossoms is so sweet and delightful that their petite size is easy to overlook. She’s also a glorious sight in autumn, when her softly mounded form turns brilliant gold; shimmering against the blue autumn sky.

When warm temperatures arrive early in Vermont, the bloom of vernal witch hazel sometimes coincides with, or even precedes the spring equinox. But winter seems a bit tenacious this year; unwilling to loose her grip on the sleeping green mountains. Feeling a bit weary, I decided to give myself a spring prelude —as I often do— by forcing the branches of a few early blooming favorites. Late last winter, I pruned my Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’ rather heavily; bringing a large armful of branches indoors for forcing. The scent was intoxicating. This year I allowed myself but a few wayward twigs from the delicious bodnant viburnum, and instead harvested a mass of Hamamelis vernalis (read more about how to force branches here)…

Freshly harvested branches of Hamamelis vernalis cut for forcing indoors

Once harvested and prepared, I placed the bundle of witch hazel branches in my cool cellar. Slowly, I am bringing branches upstairs to enjoy their honey-sweet fragrance —strong enough to scent an entire room— and delightful, sculptural form. By month’s end, various species of witch hazel will begin unfolding their blossoms outdoors, in my garden. But for now, I can enjoy a bit of spring here inside my home…

Wonderful warm color, festive form and intoxicating fragrance: who could ask for more than a visit from the good witch on a drab-grey day

Forced witch hazel branches fill my bedroom with the delicious honey-scented fragrance of springtime

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Article and photographs are copyright Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden, all rights reserved. All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used, reproduced or reposted elsewhere without written consent.

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How To Describe the Beautiful Scent of Bodnant Viburnum ‘Dawn’ ?

March 27th, 2010 § 6 comments § permalink

Anticipation! Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’ – buds swollen in cold spring rain…

I have always found it a bit frustrating that -at least in English- fragrances don’t have names of their own. Have you noticed? When we describe smells, we use similes, (smells like…), or we borrow other words, because scents have none. Often we use flavors -which have their own definitions- like “sweet” and “sour”, or “spicy” and “tart”. Sometimes we employ tactile and visual comparisons, like “soft”, “sharp” and “delicate”, or when we describe a scent, we lean on other adjectives such as “fresh”, “rotten”, “pungent”, or “beautiful”. Why are there so few words to exclusively define scents? I can’t even think of one! Can you? In fact the more unique a scent is, the harder this task becomes…

Spring rain drops shimmer like diamonds on V. bodnantense ‘Dawn’..

These thoughts occurred to me today as I paused to admire the swollen buds on my beloved Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’. It seems that her velvety, cerise petals will begin unfolding any moment now, and the anticipation is driving me crazy. I stood outside in the cold air for a long time this morning, wondering how to describe this beautiful fragrance to you. How? Words fail me, and there is no “scent” button on my laptop to transmit the odor. Clove-like with a hint of sweet berries and and musk? Hmm… it’s better than that. Pink? How can something smell pink? Yet it’s true – this blossom actually does smell pink to me. The scent is feminine and familiar, yet hauntingly, almost maddeningly elusive. It smells like a memory; something from childhood; something you know and long for, but can barely remember; something you can almost visualize, but can’t quite pull into focus; something you ache and reach for, but can’t quite touch…

Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’, within hours of opening…

Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’ in winter – buds encased in icy globes…

The bodnant viburnum is a gorgeous shrub, not so much because of its form -it can be quite coarse and should be softened with other plantings- but because of its beautiful foliage and flowers. One of the first, and most fragrant flowering shrubs to bloom in my garden, Dawn’s ice-coated buds often glow bright pink in winter – even on the darkest days. On a warm January afternoon, this shrub’s magical buds dangle like glassy-globe ornaments from snow-covered branches at the Secret Garden entry. It’s possible, with even the slightest bit of imagination, to gaze into those crystal-blossom-balls and see the future – a beautiful springtime just around the corner. Impatient by nature, I often cheat a bit and force cut branches of V. bodantense ‘Dawn’ in late winter…

Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’, foliage in autumn, here paired with golden Lindera benzoin, (spice bush)

I’ve certainly waxed poetic enough about this viburnum’s delicious blossoms – but there is more. In autumn, the brilliant foliage of ‘Dawn’ slowly morphs from bright-red maraschino to dark-cherry-fizz; glorious in combination with golden spice bush and technicolor witch alder. Although this plant can be gangly and awkward in adolescence, (aren’t we all?), with proper pruning it will achieve an attractive and shapely mature form. Climate and growing conditions will influence overall size of course, (V. bondnantense is hardy in USDA zones 5-9), but at maturity, something in the neighborhood of 8-10′ high and wide can be expected from this shrub, (my zone 4/5 specimen has grown to 8′ in as many years). Position this treasure where you will pass her frequently in the early days of springtime, and I imagine you too will stop and wonder why we have never created specific words for scents…

Forced branches of Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’…

How I wish it could be click-and-sniff…

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Article and photographs copyright 2010, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

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