At the end of October, the clocks change and suddenly we are plunged into darkness. No more rushing home from work to get half an hour in the garden, we can only get out there at weekends, weather permitting. All through November and much of December, the days get shorter, the light weaker, and the gardening itch stronger. Finally we reach the solstice, that psychological moment, and slowly, imperceptibly, the nights shorten. December turns to January, and the start of a new gardening year.
But spring still seems a long way off, and any bright colour just now is very welcome. So when, in the second week of January without fail, my witch hazel comes into flower, my spirits lift and my gardening sap starts to rise.
Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Pallida’ has pale yellow flowers that glow on a grey day, especially against a dark background, even at a distance of one hundred feet. Although it will reach ten feet in height and spread, it is slow-growing, and mine has still not reached those dimensions after nearly thirty years. But give it room to stretch as witch hazels are reluctant to break from dormant buds when cut back. Happiest in part shade in a moist but well-drained acid soil, it flowers for around two months before settling down into the background again, with a brief flare of yellow leaves in autumn if the weather conditions are right. The flowers warrant close inspection
and not just visually, as some specimens are highly scented while others have none.
Choose your shrub carefully, and winter will not seem so long.