What’s wrong with Arnold?

Undoubtedly, I’m a bit dense, but when the virtues of winter flowering witch hazels (Hamamelis) are extolled, ‘Arnold Promise’ (Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Arnold Promise’, below) is rarely mentioned. Yes, it’s common, at least as witch hazels go, but from the dozen or more witch hazels in the garden that flower from late October into March there are none that flower or grow better.

Perhaps one ‘Arnold’ is in a preferred spot with better sun exposure than the others. The largest of several ‘Arnold Promise’ in the garden has quickly grown from a stocky three footer to a vase shaped, ten foot shrub that fits perfectly with its neighbors and flowers more prolifically than any of the others. In sun or the few that are partially shaded, ‘Arnold Promise’ does its thing better than any other witch hazel. This follows a large ‘Arnold’ that grew to fifteen feet and flowered splendidly, but faded and perished several years ago when a mostly dormant, seasonal spring suddenly began gushing, dampening the surrounding soil beyond what the witch hazel and a neighboring holly could tolerate.

‘Diane’ witch hazel
‘Jelena’ witch hazel

While witch hazels are sturdy, they do not fare well in constantly damp soils, so placing another nearby with the limited exposures to sun in the rear garden took a bit of figuring. Other winter flowering hybrid witch hazels (‘Diane’and ‘Jelena’, above) have more limited exposure to sunlight, and while the common witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana, below) is a tall, understory shrub that flowers in shade at moderate elevations in our local forests, other witch hazels require more sunlight to flower fully. All grow in part shade, but flowers are more scattered.

Common witch hazels (Hamamelis virginiana) often flowers beginning in October while fading foliage remains.

I’m quite pleased that much of the garden is now shaded by the neighboring forest and the many dozens of trees I’ve planted over thirty-four years, but this has been a limiting factor in adding to the collection of winter flowering witch hazels. Recent additions to the garden have been common and vernal witch hazels (H. vernalis) that are tolerant of lower levels of sunlight. So, there are only a few winter flowering hybrids to compare to, but ‘Arnold Promise’ is hard to beat.

The vernal witch hazel begins flowering in early January, just as the grayness of winter seems endless.
Hamamelis mollis ‘Wisley Supreme’ was planted a year ago, just after flowering, so this is the first bloom in the garden for the small shrub.

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