The Buzz

Witch Hazel in the (Herb) Garden


A few weeks ago, I was raking leaves in the Herb Garden. While raking, I slowly became aware of a sweet, musky undertone filling the air. Now, sweet smells in the Herb Garden are almost always present-especially the Juicy Fruit Gum smell of the Kapoor Tulsi Basil – so, I tend to just think, “Yummm” and keep working.  That day, I pulled leaves out of some boxwoods, bumped into a witch hazel, and realized I had a snoot full of witch hazel blooms tickling my nose hairs. Ah, ha! I finally made the connection!  Tom Pellett has stated in his talks that if you want constant winter blooms in your garden from about October to April – just check out the witch hazels. Of course, flowering time can vary slightly from year to year depending on the weather, but I walked through the Herb Garden to see where they were in their bloom cycles. This is what I found: 

Hamamelis virginiana is in full bloom and just beginning to decline, H. virginiana 'Little Suzie'- almost done for this year, H. vernalis 'Girard's Purple' - almost done for this year,  H. mollis 'Superba' blooming now – at peak,  H. x intermedia 'Luna' – will be blooming soon.  

Curious as to professionally projected bloom times, I went to Clemson University’s extension service site ( and found an article on witch hazels. Here is what they listed as bloom times for the various witch hazels: Hamamelis virginiana = fall,  H. vernalis = late winter/early spring, H. mollis = usually blooms later than H. vernalis (Feb/Mar for zone 7 upstate South Carolina), H. x intermedia  = varies depending upon the parents, but probably Jan-Mar. Hmmm. It does sync with my findings! 

Witch hazels prefer moist, rich, well-drained, slightly acidic soils. Clemson says that they are moderately drought tolerant once established. Light shade to full sun are the requirements they list with the caveat of: if planted in full sun the soil must be moist. More sun means more blooms, but I’m not sure I would plant witch hazels in full on all day blazing sun here in the midsouth. I would definitely hedge my bets with afternoon shade (if I were to plant in sun). Witch hazels vary in size depending on species – they can range from about 6’ to 25’ in optimal conditions so just research the ones you like. I think this would be a wonderful addition to your garden if you don’t already have one. It is nice to have the little touch of color at such a monochromatic time of year. The light fragrance is nice, too – it complements the scent of woodsmoke that spirals through the breeze at this time of year. Don’t know what you might want? Google witch hazel and check out the cultivars, come to the Botanic Garden and walk the grounds to see the ones we have (Arnold Promise is a really nice one in the Sensory Garden, others can be found on Daffodil Hill, in Nature Photography Garden, the Herb Garden, and plantings in front of the front door to the Visitor’s Center), also, you can check out local nurseries. Your local nurseryman is a valuable source of information for plants for your area-you might even be able to see different species/cultivars as they bloom if you shop often. If you want a witch hazel – be aware that now is the best time of the year to plant shrubs and trees…   

Are you wondering why witch hazel is in the Herb Garden? Witch hazel leaves, twigs and bark contain substances that are astringent (helps remove excess oil from skin, and shrink pores), soothing and hemostatic (controls minor bleeding). It can help reduce inflammation in injured tissue, thus speeding up healing. Witch hazel is often used to combat acne, varicose veins, and hemorrhoids. Clemson’s article states: it is one of the very few American medicinal plants approved as an ingredient in non-prescription drugs by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.   Wow, who knew? A pretty, flowering, fragrant tree that has nice health benefits, as well! I think I am going to get at least one! Join me? 

 (ps. Stand near the pyramid sign at the path juncture between the bridge and the formal area and breathe deeply!)

Posted by sherri mccalla at 2:30 PM


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