Elegant, peculiar, surprising and soothing

Witch hazel Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Pallida'.PHOTO: PETER MCINTOSH
Witch hazel Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Pallida'.PHOTO: PETER MCINTOSH
Witch hazels are old-fashioned garden favourites, blooming now around Dunedin Botanic Garden. They are deciduous shrubs from woodlands and river margins in North America, Japan and China.

Why the curious name? The "witch" part comes from wice, meaning "to bend". It refers to the pliant branches, but witch hazels have been valued as useful and even magical plants for centuries. Their branches were used as divining rods for water and gold. The bark and wood have long been used medicinally for skin conditions and other ailments. Witch hazel is still used in many modern herbal products, including facial mist, yoga mat spritzer, and the product "Anti Bad Vibe Shield — Body and Air Mist".

You’ll probably get brighter skin and more good vibes from digging a hole and planting a witch hazel in your garden than you’ll ever get from the "air mist" (even if it does contain an amethyst crystal), but witch hazels do have a certain magic about them.

These refined garden beauties seem to know that mid-winter is the perfect time to reveal their sweetly fragrant blooms. There are few distracting competitors flowering nearby, leaving dark evergreens or atmospheric winter skies to act as a backdrop. From a vase-shaped framework of bare, crooked branches, witch hazels gently offer their display that is at once elegant and peculiar, surprising and soothing. Delicate strap-shaped petals twist and dangle, like tiny ribbons, in shades of sulphur yellow, gold, copper and burnt orange.

 - Garden Life is produced by Dunedin Botanic Garden. For further information contact Kate Caldwell.


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