Monday, February 21, 2011

February Thaw

Late winter is a funny, fickle time here on the Shore...One day the temps are in the 50s....The next day winter is back with a vengeance with hard blowing winds and temps dipping back into the 20s and 30s.
I love taking walks with our Cavalier King Charles spaniel  puppy Sophie during the mild spells...We look for signs of skunk cabbage and early bulb greenery. As it happened last weekend, we lucked out with Old Man Winter and took an impromptu trip to RareFind Nursery in Jackson, New Jersey to attend the annual Hamamelis Festival...or witchhazel.
My beloved grower of hellebores, Pine Knot Farm of Clarksville, VA, were coming up for the event and selling their plants!..I was looking forward to an exciting weekend.

On a balmy Friday, we loaded up a rented van, packed Sophie with  her bed and food and headed for the horse country of central Jersey..We pulled into the driveway of Peacefields Bed and Breakfast  outside Allentown, approximately 3 hours later....Its a lovely place built in the 1840s with huge creaking porches, tangled wisteria.... and they welcome dogs like Sophie with open arms.

The next morning we entered a large barn at RareFind where about 70 people were gathered to listen to the talk on witchhazel..American Distilling Company from East Hampton,  CT was the guest speaker  on this fascinating plant.I learned alot about this beautiful tree that thrives well in the mid Atlantic area....More than I ever thought possible.
About 90% of the world's  harvested  witchhazel is forested in central  Connecticut..Witch hazel growing and harvesting is a family run business where many generations have worked to cultivate and harvest witch hazel...So why is this such an important plant?...Witch hazel has a long history in the Northeast US...Native Americans used the tree bark  as a salve for burns, scrapes and for skin disorders...It was also used as an astringent..They passed on this information to the early colonists..American Distilling Company manufactures skin care products using raw witch hazel...The alcohol used in their skin care products is distilled, not processed chemically...This  process gives great benefits to consumers because the distilled alcohol doesnt dry the skin like synthetic alcohols do...Toms of Maine healthcare products company is a major buyer of American Distilling Company...Some witch hazel has scented blossoms, others dont...Witch hazel blooms are protected from the fierce winter temps and winds thru a special kind of leaf curling and delicate oil on their petals.
Learning all about this made me want to drive up to Connecticut to witness the harvesting, which takes place in early late fall/early winter.
After the talk, all of us ventured into the nursery greenhouses to buy some witch hazel of our own.
It was tough choosing which kinds to bring home...RareFind Nursery  is home to about 20 kinds of witch hazel that they grow in their greenhouses...I ended up with:

Hamamelis xintermedia 'Jelena'

Hamamelis mollis 'Wisley Supreme' Chinese witch hazel...The English love this one.

Hamamelis xintermedia 'Antoine Kort', a very rare kind of witch hazel that is possibly only available thru
Rarefind Nursery...Plus it has a heavenly, citrusy scent!

Thus happily stocked with witch hazel, we spoke to the folks at Pine Knot Farms about their beautiful hellebores, which also bloom around the same time as many witch hazels....I picked out a dozen favorites and crammed everything in the car..Sophie was a trooper and shared her backseat with the plants.

When I got home I wondered how long it would be before I could get a mild day to plant the hellebores.
My landscaper friend from the Western Shore agreed to plant the witch hazel in a few weeks, along with some evergreen azaleas I managed to fit in the car.
This Friday ended up being a great day for planting....65 degrees and no wind....a perfect thaw.

I love their cheery faces and delicate petals that hide the toughness and tenacity they have in winter winds that other flowers cant tolerate..They remind me of the Celtic  pagan celebration of Imbolc, which celebrates the halfway point between the winter equinox and spring solestice. Others call this special day Ground Hog Day.

However, all good things must come to an end...A late winter storm is predicted for tomorrow, with a few inches of the white stuff...I think these babies will feel right at home.



  1. Great post! I just shared it with our Therapeutic Landscapes Network members on Facebook:)

  2. Thanks ,Naomi..Nice to see you here and welcome back from Peru!!
    Looking forward to hearing about your travels.

  3. I love all of them...the witch hazel and the hellebore. I don't have any witch hazel in my yard. I do have hellebore but I can't figure out why only 1 of them is in bloom this year. They've always bloomed for me in years past. I keep saying I need to add more. Perhaps a trip to a local nursery is in order now. Yours are all beautiful.

  4. I love witch hazel, such a harbinger of spring and amazing fragrance. Have always wished I had room on my small city lot to plant one or 2. My favorite planting in Oregon is Bishop's Close garden in SW Portland/West Linn area.