The spidery, yellow ribbons of the witch hazel unfurl with a spicy fragrance in the Fota Frameyard. This is the Hamamelis × intermedia ‘Arnold’s Promise’, that came under attack from the Fota rabbits when it was first planted. Now it has recovered and is thriving in the herbaceous border. E.A. Bowles, the British horticulturist, called witch hazel the ‘Epiphany Tree’ because some of these shrubs start to flower around the 6th of January and smell like frankincense. ‘Arnold Promise’ flowers somewhat later than others, in February and March.
It’s old-fashioned, a bit quaint but the wallflower produces a wonderful scent at this time of year. The Elizabethans loved this plant and regularly used them in posies to mask the smells of daily, urban life when they ventured outside. The name cheiranthus is thought to come from the Greek for hand (cheir) and flower (anthos), suggesting their use as a fragrant bouquet. They were also a favourite in Victorian borders. In the Frameyard, where they’re now blooming plentifully, their bright colours signal the arrival of Spring.