Hamamelis mollis

The Chinese witch hazel is a quite startling shrub to meet on a winter’s day. When most of the garden has gone to sleep here is a tall, angular, twiggy plant very much alive and apparently covered with large yellow spiders. If the day is fine, these curious flowers will throw out a rich, sweet scent to a considerable distance.

Hamamelis is deciduous, fully hardy, likes full sun and a rich, lime-free soil, and is a particularly good town plant. Its flowering time varies with the weather, but usually starts in mid-winter and lasts for several weeks. The large, rough leaves appear after the flowers are over and in autumn turn golden yellow. The bush grows to 8 feet (2.4 m) or more in height, with the same width across the crown of the bush.

The colour of H. mollis is a deep, heavy yellow, like the yellow of gorse, but the variety ‘Pallida’ is more attractive, with lemon-yellow flowers stained with wine-red in the centre. Plant it a few feet away from the house among low evergreens, like box or skimmia, and you have a shapely composition to enjoy through the windows in the darkest months.

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