Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Witch hazel

Witch hazel has a most unfortunate name. Brings to mind Hazel the TV maid and nastiness. But Hamamelis vernalis, a native witch hazel, deserves no such association. I saw this one in a hoop house at Morris Arboretum today. But it was the one I saw from afar, as I walked down the hill toward the arboretum's Fernery (another treat on a winter's day), that made me stop. This shrub's fragrance was so strong, we smelled it from at least 100 yards away. It was light and sweet, so unlike the day, which was dark and freezing, despite a not-so-bad temperature of 43 degrees. Visitors from out West always tell me that the cold in Philadelphia is much colder, probably because of the dampness. It certainly felt that way today. But witch hazel brightens and softens the winter with its spidery blossoms and delicious fragrance. And how about that yellow? Yellow in winter is unexpected, a real tease. And how smart is this guy. The flowers open up on warm, sunny days then - like the people they please - roll up, pull back, when the temperatures drop. It's a survival mechanism, a way to keep from freezing.

Witch hazel

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Rosa 'All Ablaze' blazes cherry red in Burke Brothers' Tuscany exhibit, accenting classic Italian elements with bright flowers. (Ron Tarver / Staff photographer)
Rosa 'All Ablaze' blazes cherry red in Burke Brothers' Tuscany exhibit, accenting classic Italian elements with bright flowers. (Ron Tarver / Staff photographer)

Witch hazel has a most unfortunate name. Brings to mind Hazel the TV maid and nastiness. But Hamamelis vernalis, a native witch hazel, deserves no such association. I saw this one in a hoop house at Morris Arboretum today. But it was the one I saw from afar, as I walked down the hill toward the arboretum's Fernery (another treat on a winter's day), that made me stop. This shrub's fragrance was so strong, we smelled it from at least 100 yards away. It was light and sweet, so unlike the day, which was dark and freezing, despite a not-so-bad temperature of 43 degrees. Visitors from out West always tell me that the cold in Philadelphia is much colder, probably because of the dampness. It certainly felt that way today. But witch hazel brightens and softens the winter with its spidery blossoms and delicious fragrance. And how about that yellow? Yellow in winter is unexpected, a real tease. And how smart is this guy. The flowers open up on warm, sunny days then - like the people they please - roll up, pull back, when the temperatures drop. It's a survival mechanism, a way to keep from freezing.

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About this blog
Ginny Smith, a Philadelphia native, joined the Inquirer at 1985. After stints as both reporter and editor in the city and suburbs, she’s been happily writing – and learning - about gardening full time since 2006. She’s won two silver medals of achievement from the national Garden Writers Association and in 2011, Bartram’s Garden honored her with its Green Exemplar award for her stories about “the region’s deeply rooted horticultural history, cultural attractions and bountiful gardens.” She plays in her own – mostly - bountiful garden in East Falls. Reach Virginia A. at vsmith@phillynews.com .

Virginia A. Smith Inquirer Staff Writer
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