It’s All About the Light – Backlighting Makes Everything Come Alive

Last fall I finally made the hard decision to cut down my ‘Arnold’s Promise’ witch hazel. It had turned into a spindly out-of-scale tree that only bloomed on top. Witch hazels tend to resprout vigorously after storm damage or heavy pruning, so I’m hoping that “basal pruning” will encourage it to grow into a bushy blooming shrub again. No more waffling. Resolute, I hardened my heart, but held off until spring’s approach. Pruning to encourage new growth is best done when it’s primed to grow, not before winter’s icy blasts.

I’ve been dismantling poor old Arnold, bouquet by bouquet, over the past month. At first, buds took a couple days to open indoors, but now I’m cutting blooming branches – and leaving some to enjoy out in the garden. What a luxury to have armloads of free flowers this time of year! Little bouquets of trimmings scattered around the house are lovely, but the real showstopper is on a pedestal in front of a window. Backlit, the huge clear vase filled with multicolored marbles and flowering boughs of translucent yellow ribbons is pure glowing magic.

This magical illumination is easy to achieve on a windowsill where you’re inside looking out toward the light. Out in the garden, witch hazels provide welcome spring color no matter how you look at them. But when you gaze up through their branches toward a bright sky, or see them with low sun shining through, they’re ablaze with light and color.

I’m not outdoors as much as I’d like when these early bloomers are blooming, so I plant them where I can enjoy from inside. With sunset-facing windows, the more witch hazels I place between me and the setting sun, the more glorious the spectacle.  I have the feeling that if I go to the March 16 witch hazel program at Broken Arrow Nursery in Hamden, CT, I will be be-witched into buying more.