A combination of an enjoyable winter walk at the Royal Horticultural Society garden at Wisley in Surrey and a quick check in the relevant monograph looks to have solved the mystery of the Asian witch hazel in our Pennsylvania garden.
The problem is that the plant of Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Pallida’ we bought from White Flower Farm in Connecticut back in 2007 retains most of its old dry brown leaves through the winter and into flowering time – which ruins the display. And 'Pallida' is not supposed to do that.
But at Wisley, on one side of the path near the lake, was H. x intermedia ‘Pallida’, looking lovely with not one crusty old leaf interrupting the view of the flowers. And right there on the other side of the path was another witch hazel in pretty much the same color, with rows and rows of leaves along the branches completely ruining the effect. It was labeled ‘Moonlight’. You can see both in the picture (click to enlarge).
So, as soon as I got back, I looked up ‘Moonlight’ in Chris Lane’s excellent monograph Witch Hazels (out of print, but still available on amazon.com and also available on amazon.co.uk). And there I found the answer. This is what he says about it: “This selection is not widely grown any more, as it has the habit of retaining dead leaves during the winter… In the past, it has been sold as H. x intermedia ‘Pallida’ both in the United Kingdom and… also in North America.”
So it looks as if White Flower Farm sold me the impostor, ‘Moonlight’, instead of the true ‘Pallida’ – and, if I’m feeling sufficiently infuriated, I have to take the kitchen scissors and snip off every old leaf before the flowers open. Not fun. The plant has now reached almost 3m/10ft high and wide and it’s supposed to be a glorious spectacle. But, unless I snip off all those ***** leaves, it’s more of an eyesore. But at least I know what it is - though that's little comfort.
White Flower Farm no longer sell Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Pallida’.