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February 2015

Witch hazel mystery solved?

Hamamelis x intermedia 'Pallida'(above) and its impostor 'Moonlight'. Images ©GardenPhotos.comA 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 and also available on 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’.

Developments in sweet peas

Lathyrus belinensis, discovered in Turkey in 1987A couple of interesting sweet pea developments to tell you about.

First of all, the hybrid made by Keith Hammett between the familiar sweet pea, Lathyrus odoratus, and L. belinensis (click to enlarge), discovered in Turkey in 1987, has been formally named by RHS botanist Dawn Edwards – Lathyrus x hammettii.

Keith worked for many years using L. belinensis with its yellow and orange flowers, to create a yellow flowered sweet pea – he started by crossing it with ‘Mrs Collier’ - and that work continues. But along the way it has, rather surprisingly, led to the development of some impressive reverse bicolours, sweet peas with the standard paler than the dark wings; ‘Erewhon’, which I discussed here a couple of years ago, is perhaps the best example so far. A full account of these hybrid and their origins was recently published in the Royal Horticultural Society magazine The Plantsman.

The other, perhaps even more startling development, relates to sweet peas as cut flowers. As you can see Long stemmed sweet peas from Japandfrom the picture (click to enlarge), a Japanese grower has managed to create sweet peas with extraordinarily long stems. I’ve yet to find out quite how they did it – not being fluent in Japanese is, of course, an impediment. But whether it’s new breeding or new growing techniques it would be interesting to know quite how they did it.

Winter weirdness in the banana border

Winter banana protection at the RHS Garden, Wisley. Image ©GardenPhotos.comOn a quick gallop around the Royal Horticultural Society’s garden at Wisley, in Surrey south of London, last week I came across what from a distance looked like a rather old-fashioned artistic installation. But no, it’s the bananas in their winter livery (click the images to enlarge).

Growing bananas outside in Britain (zone 8) is a dicey business – so often the winters are just too cold. So the banana plants in the subtropical borders, across the lawn from the restaurant, are wrapped in fleece and hessian (burlap to Americans) to protect them.

You can tell from the way that the stalagmites are grouped that young plants springing from suckers are being protected alongside larger specimens so the technique must have worked in the past.

We all like to try to keep plants that are borderline hardy through the winter: well, this is how it’s done.

Protecting plants in the subtropical borders at the RHS Garden, Wisley. Image ©