As ProfessorRoush looked out his bedroom window two weeks ago, he spied yellow; yellow where it shouldn't be yellow. In the garden, something was blooming in late fall! Something that shouldn't have been blooming! On closer examination, it turned out to be his witch hazel, purchased as Hamamelis × intermedia 'Jelena' and planted in 2008, profusely and vibrantly blooming its overhyped head off.
But, it wasn't, actually. It wasn't his 'Jelena', because ProfessorRoush has to face the fact that he doesn't have a 'Jelena'. 'Jelena' should bloom in the spring. 'Jelena' should bloom in various shades of red-orange to yellow. 'Jelena' should have better fall foliage color than my obviously mislabeled 'not-Jelena'.
I'm finally sure that I was sold a proverbial pig-in-a-poke, a witch hazel whitewash, as it were. I've long suspected it; the sporadic bloom, seeming to occur in fall or early winter, although sometimes it held off till February. Plain fall foliage that turns tan and drops fairly quickly, and a slow growth rate. The discordant fact that no one else seems to be able to grow witch hazel in this area. Several of my garden visitors have inquired of it, and then proclaimed my green thumb at getting it to grow in these alkaline, dry soils. Mine never thrived, but it lived, suffered through long summers of drought, and grew a little each year. And those chrome yellow blooms, which didn't show nearly the length and visibility they were supposed to, in disappointing contrast to rave reports from plantsmen.
It's now clear that I was sold, at a premium price, the common witchhazel, Hamamelis virginiana, or some variant thereof. I'm going to have to find a way to live with that, to live with the knowledge of yet another mislabeled imposter in my garden. I've accumulated a few over the years, wrong-labeled roses I can't identify, cultivars of perennials that were sold as something else. How often, how curious, that the mislabeled plant lives and thrives while the cherished named cultivars perish. I'm suspicious that horticultural stores have a way of growing what is easy and then just responding to consumer demand. "You want a 'Jelena' Witch Hazel? Sure, we've got those, just give me a minute to type up a plant tag for these unlabeled shrubs over here." One wonders, one worries, right up until the plant finally matures and shows its true, completely yellow colors, in the wrong season, no less. And then one has to live with the imposter, right there, in the midst of a dry brown garden, blooming yellow with carefree abandon. I suppose I can let this one pass. It does, after all, contrast nicely with the blue Kansas sky.