Archive for the ‘Shrubs’ Category

Annabelle Hydrangea: Horseback ride too Horticulture Hall of Fame.

Posted by Mark Wessel on July 5th, 2013  •  Comments Off on Annabelle Hydrangea: Horseback ride too Horticulture Hall of Fame.

Annebelle and hosta’s in our garden.

A quick ride through any neighborhood in Cincinnati  will reveal the importance of Hydrangea’s in our landscapes. Oak leafs, Paniculatas, macrophylas  and climbing Hydrangeas all populate local gardens.

Hydrangea arborescens “Annabelle” is one of the hardest working member of this genus. Long lasting large white flowering heads sit atop three to four foot, slightly colonizing plants. Even after the color fades, the blooms persist, providing interest though the fall and winter months.

Annabelle in Mt. Lookout Garden

Provided with ample moisture, and shade from the hottest part of the day, Annabelle is one of the easiest Hydrangea’s to cultivate. Pruning is a dream. Prune to 18-24 inches in late winter or early spring. They can also be cut to the ground. No need to worry about losing flower buds, it flowers on new wood. Since the flowers are white, there is no angst over changing the ph of the soil to get pink or blue.

One of the common problems with Annabelle and other large-headed Hydrangea’s is flopping. After a rain, all the stems are lying on the ground. When you cut the patch down to the ground every year there is no chance for the plant to develop  a thicker stems. This is the reason for pruning 18″-24″, the stems get thicker and are better able to hold the flower erect. Planting in groups helps them support themselves. Plant hoops, planting along a fence and branches placed around the plant early in the year also help support the heavy flowers.

Hydrangea arborescens along moist woods edge hillside.

Hydrangea arborescens is native to the eastern USA. It can be found growing on moist shaded woodland slopes and wooded edges. The flowers as a whole are a flattish umbel of fertile and sterile flowers.A corymb to be exact. On Annabelle it is the sterile flowers that provide the show. The straight species are mostly the less showy fertile  flowers. They are kind of fuzzy and not nearly as dramatic. Even though the species is not nearly as showy as Annabelle, it does have an understated beauty which I always enjoy in its native setting.

Hydrangea arborescens fertile florets with one sterile floret.

Annabelle comes from humble beginnings. In 1910 Hubbard Kirkpatrick’s mother notice the plant in the woods while she was on a horseback ride through the hills of Anna Illinois. Upon her return home she asked her sister-in-law,Amy Kirkpatrick, “Have you ever seen a wild Hydrangea with snowball blooms?” Amy was interested and the two moved the plant to their garden in town. Over the years they shared starts with the neighbors and soon it was seen growing throughout the town of Anna.

The ladies wrote to Burpee Seed Company asking if a snowball Hydrangea was known in cultivation. Burpee replied with information about the 1906 introduction “Snowhill”. 50 years passed and their Hydrangea was passed along in gardens throughout Illinois. Legendary Plantsman, Joe C. McDaniel, University of Illinois, found the plant growing in an Urbana Illinois garden and traced its roots back to Anna. He introduced it to the country in 1962.

Hydrangea “Annabelle” sterile floret flower head.

Mr. McDaniel speculated that had the 1906 Snowhill Hydrangea made it to Anna Illinois they may not have given the woodland plant a second look since it had not reached its full splendor.

Annabelle’s floriferous nature, ease of cultivation and sheer beauty definitely make her a First-Ballot Hall of  Famer.

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Winter Blooming Witch Hazels: More than just Barney Fife’s after-shave.

Posted by Mark Wessel on February 8th, 2012  •  Comments Off on Winter Blooming Witch Hazels: More than just Barney Fife’s after-shave.

Hamamelis mollis "Wisley Supreme

“Hello Floyd, this is Barney Fife. I’m coming over and I’m ready for action! That’s right I want the works. Shave, haircut, Witch Hazel, O.D. Cologne, toilet water. If it smells, I want it.”

Hamamelis x intermedia "Strawberries and Cream"

Hamamelis x intermedia "Strawberries and Cream"

If you want some action in your garden in the dreary depths of winter, Witch Hazels are the shrub for you. We are not talking about their wonderful astringent after- shave qualities, which good old Barney Fife was so familiar with.  We are talking flowers and fragrance.

Hamamelis x intermedia "Fire Charm"

As winter starts to lighten its grip, Witch Hazels (Hamamelis) are among the first shrubs to start blooming. February is often prime bloom time. However, there is variation due to weather patterns. This year my H. vernalis started blooming in late December and has since finished blooming. In other years I have seen the same species bloom into early March.

Hamamelis x intermedia "Allgold"

Although a few warm and sunny days in winter start the bloom process, the inevitable cold that will follow rarely damages the bloom. Recently, the flowers seemed undamaged after a few nights in the upper teens.

Hamamelis mollis "Rochester"

The genus Hamamelis consist of five species. In the winter landscape, three species concern us most. H. vernalis, H. japonica, and H. mollis. Most of the selections available to gardeners today are hybrids between japonica and mollis. These hybrids are referred to as Hamamelis x intermedia followed by the cultivar name.

Hamamelis vernalis "Girards Purple"

Varying shades of yellow, orange and red are the dominant color range. While many of the yellow cultivars can be effective from a distant vantage point, this is not ideal for the more subtle earth tones. Since gardeners are often not out in the landscape in the winter, placing the plants in areas that receive winter foot traffic benefits the gardener the most. Near the driveway or parking areas or along the walk to the entrance of your house ensures maximum exposure to they’re beauty.

Hamamelis intermedia "Limelight"

Beautiful bloom isn’t the only reason to grow Witch Hazel. Often the first indication of bloom is the fragrance. The sweet fragrance of some cultivars travels long distances in the garden. Not all cultivars are fragrant. Research before purchasing or time in the field using the olfactory sense will help you get the right plant.

Hamamelis x intermedia "Birgit"

Witch Hazels can reach fifteen to twenty feet in height. Most are either broadly vase-shaped or low, mounding and wide spreading. Full sun to partial shade is preferred. Although shade is tolerated, bloom will be greatly reduced.

Wisley Supreme and Hamamelis mollis "James Wells"

Witch Hazels do suffer a few less than desirable traits.  Some cultivars hold on to the previous years leaves and seed capsules until nearly the time new foliage emerges. This trait obscures blossoms and creates an untidy appearance. The picture directly above shows a good example of this trait. Wisley Supreme is the yellow cultivar on the left. Few leaves. Beautiful display. The plant on the right, James Wells, seems to have kept all its foliage from last year.

Hamamelis "Aurora"

For an article written in more flowery prose and from the standpoint of one of the nations experts, Tim Brotzman, on the genus Hamamelis, check out this link. No one is better suited to write about the genus.

Hamamelis x intermedia "Orange Beauty"

Admittedly, Witch Hazel varieties are not the easiest plants to locate. Ask your gardening friends if they are growing them. Check out the local arboretums.

Hamamelis vernalis

Dawes Arboretum, east of Columbus Ohio, has one of the finest collections of the genus.


Just like any plant that brings color, form or fragrance into the winter and early spring garden, Witch Hazels are well worth the effort.

Posted in : Shrubs, winter bloomers  •