March 29, 2013
My friend Nancy Buley--director of communications by day at J. Frank Schmidt Nursery and proprietor of Treephoria, LLC by night--teased me yesterday. When you're a plant geek, teasing is easy enough--just toss a little eye candy into an email, pen a gentle muse suggesting yet another plant purchase, and hit send.
She's sly like that. Tease and tempt me she did with these delightful tree-form Corylopsis spicata, the spike winterhazel of witchhazel relation. I didn't refuse. The winterhazels first enchanted me on a mid-March visit to Morris Arboretum several years ago, previously only the stuff of catalogs and wishlists, though coveted just the same. In full array and traditional, brambled form, they are a sweetly scented cloud of straw-toned flowers. That mass of them at the Morris beckoned me closer, just as they did the bumblebees so eagerly probing their blooms. I'm already imagining a similar scene here.
The winterhazels, a genus of 30 or so species, love a little shade during the growing season, but blooming as early as they do, relish the warming rays of bright exposures in early spring. Ultimately they aren't that picky about soil, but in climates where an early warmup might threaten their tender buds, a bit of protection isn't a bad idea. We'll surely tuck ours into a special spot to savor and enjoy their vernal company for many seasons to come. If you're down for the hardiest of the bunch, you'll need to search out fragrant winterhazel (C. glabrescens). In USDA Zone 6 and above, you'll relish the buttercup winterhazel (C. pauciflora) for its soft, creamy flowers. In whatever garden, though, you'll quickly realize that winterhazels are more than just necessary shrubs (or small trees) for an otherwise colorless garden scene; they're essential.
Photo courtesy of Nancy Buley.