Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Jelena’ has long been one of the most popular of the hybrid witch hazels. Flowers appear as a bright copper-orange from a distance. Closer inspection reveals a bicolored flower, being reddish at the base but changing to more of an orange yellow at the tip. Although it has relatively little scent compared to the intoxicatingly fragrant Hamamelis mollis, it is prized for its flower color. ‘Jelena’ has received an Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society, and has been one of the most available hybrids since its introduction in the early 1950s. It is synonymous with ‘Copper Beauty’ and sometimes offered under that name. Fall color is often very good, and in the yellow-orange range. Fragrance, while light overall, seems more pronounced on sunnier, warmer days.
Witch hazels are slow growing vase-shaped large shrubs to small trees, perfect for urban gardens. They require little care once established. They do prefer well drained soils, and neutral to slightly acidic conditions. Some summer water is recommended during our arid summer months for younger plants, but otherwise little care is needed. Give some protection from wind to prevent leaf burn of younger leaves in colder climes. They make excellent container specimens when young.
Witch hazels don’t appreciate heavy pruning, as this can lead to unwieldly suckers. Hybrid witch hazels are generally grafted to vigorous rootstock of Hamamelis virginiana (common witch hazel, native to eastern North America). This can lead to suckers at the base of the plant if planted too deeply. Be sure not to bury the graft union. If you notice that you have different colored flowers on mature plants this is because suckers from below the graft are starting to take over the plant (and should be removed). Witch hazels can be pruned lightly after flowering by cutting back that seasons growth to a leaf bud—heavier pruning should to limited to removing dead wood if possible.
At the Center for Urban Horticulture, two espaliered specimens of ‘Jelena’ (accessions 288-89*A and B) are in full bloom in by early February. While they are grown on a north facing trellis, they have reached a mature height of more than 8’ after more than 25 years, and bloom very well. I’ve noticed that the fragrance is much better in sunnier situations, but these plants are a great example of how they can be used effectively in narrow spaces. Here they flank another espaliered hybrid witch hazel, the dark red flowering ‘Diane’ (287-89*A).
In the Josepeh Witt Winter Garden at the Arboretum, our example of ‘Jelena’ has been left to grow in its natural vase-shaped form. This specimen was imported from Kalmthout in 1962 (644-62*A). However, unlike most of the witch hazels in that garden this one has the unfortunate habit of hanging on to its leaves through the winter. This can be a problem with younger plants as it obscures many of the blooms, and some cultivars seem to be more susceptible than others. But they usually outgrow it and ‘Jelena’ is not noted for this behavior. I think the answer may lie with the fact that this plant was moved during its “teenage years.” Its former site was at the south end of the Arboretum in the old Witch Hazel Family collection location. It was dug up and moved to the Winter Garden in 1988 when that garden was renovated. In its former location it was noted as having retained its leaves through winter most years, but I surmise that the shock of transplant at that age may have kept it in a more juvenile state. In any case, the leaves can be removed by hand prior to blooming if desired. And the old leaves do fall off each year when the new leaves emerge. But I wouldn’t let this deter you. Every other ‘Jelena’ I’ve seen, including the ones at CUH don’t exhibit this behavior.
There range of available cultivars of hybrid witch hazels has greatly expanded in recent years. Colors range from yellow to orange to red. But ‘Jelena’ remains one of the best, and is worth seeking out. Visit ours examples in bloom anytime during the month of February.
Common name: ‘Jelena’ hybrid witch hazel
Location: Two plants at the Center for Urban Horticulture (CUH), espaliered on the north side of the Northwest Horticultural Society (NHS) Hall; one plant in the Witt Winter Garden in grid 35-1E at the Arboretum.
Origin: Of garden origin, a hybrid of Hamamelis mollis, the Chinese witch hazel, and H. japonica, the Japanese witch hazel. ‘Jelena’ was raised at Kalmthout, Belgium by the nurseryman Kort. Georges and Robert de Belder took over what remained of the former nursery site after World War 2, and many hybrids originated from their work and Kort’s earlier hybrid selections. ‘Jelena’ was named by Robert de Belder for his wife. The literature says that it is properly pronounced as “Yellen-ah” or like “Helena, Montana” but with a Y instead of an H at the beginning. Arboretum Kalmthout now occupies the former nursery site.
Height and spread: ‘Jelena’ will reach 8-12’ high and wide in time, and grows in a vase-shaped manner. It does best in full sun in our climate, where it will form more compact plants. It can grow in part shade to heavier shade, but plants will be ganglier and sparser and will tend to flower less.
Hardiness: Cold hardy to USDA Zone 5