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Witch hazels at RareFind Nursery

This is the time of year that I routinely bang on about the American native witch hazel, Hamamelis virginiana, flowering now along our roadsides here in Pennsylvania – the scent wafting in through the open windows of the car is simply magical. And 99.9% of British gardeners don’t know these autumn flowering witch hazels even exist.

But a visit yesterday to the fascinating RareFind Nursery two-and-a-half hours away from us in New Jersey turned my attention away from the wild forms along the roadside and in the woods – whose intriguing variations I talked about here almost exactly a year ago.


For at RareFind I spotted two cultivars of H. virginiana I’d never seen before, ‘Harvest Moon’ (above, click to enlarge) and ‘Champlin’s Red’. There only seem to be about seven or eight and it’s taken more than fifty years since the first to get to that small number.

‘Harvest Moon’ looks like some of the best I’ve seen in the wild. The petals are longer than those of most forms, there seem to be more flowers in each cluster and the clusters are closer together than in most of the others. So the plant has quite an impact. The scent is good, and the mostly yellow autumn leaf color is pretty good too, though perhaps not spectacular. At least the leaves have mostly dropped by the time the flowers open, so the flowers are not hidden.

Most spring flowering witch hazels are grafted on to seed-raised H. virginiana rootstocks, ‘Harvest Moon’ was a rootstock which grew and flowered after grafting failed.

Rather different is ‘Champlin’s Red’ (below, click to enlarge), found on a roadside in Rhode Island. Personally, I find this more interesting than dramatic. The two tone flowers have petals which are rosy red at the base and yellow at the tips, an intriguing but not really colorful combination. Unfortunately, there is little scent. Again, the yellow leaf color is good, but not spectacular. It's available at the nursery, but not on the website.


I couldn’t find ‘Mohonk Red’ on the nursery (there are so many distractions!), but it’s in the online catalog along with six others including two variegated forms. It looks like a slightly darker, redder version of ‘Champlin’s Red’. This is the only form of H. virginiana available in the UK so far.

I think we’re going to have to extend the deer fence to fit these in – the deer love them.

RareFind Nursery is full of fascinating plants, and good horticultural conversation. It focuses on trees and shrubs, including many unusual variegated forms, but grows some good perennials too. They also keep an impressive range of rhododendrons chosen specifically for the east coast, including some raised by the nursery’s founder Hank Schannen who sadly passed away last year.

If you’re looking for something choice, but uncommon - RareFind is the place. And, as Hank put it: “If you can find it in a garden centre, we probably don’t have it!” And their mail order service has a great reputation.