Archive for December, 2012

Moonlight makes shadows on the snow

Greetings from snowy Vermont where we have been spending a lovely Christmas holiday! I’m so excited that there have been two nice snow storms since we’ve been up here. Friday night, the night of the full moon, was beautiful; crisp and clear.  The moon was incredibly bright and, combined with the fresh covering of 15” of snow, it created a spectacular scene outside the upstairs window.

It wasn’t Christmas Eve but the line from “Twas the Night Before Christmas” was all I could think of when I looked out of the window:

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below …

Moonlight shining through a large beech created an intricate shadow on the snow

Moonlight shining through a large beech created an intricate shadow on the snow

Everything was bathed in moonlight. I haven’t seen such bright moonlight in a long time. It was gorgeous! I wish my pictures had come out better. You can’t even imagine how beautiful it was unless you’ve experienced it before.

The snow was reflecting the moonlight making it even brighter; illuminating the trees and creating beautiful shadows on the snow.

This incredible scene reminded me of another reason that deciduous trees can be so spectacular in winter. The pattern of shadows they make on the snow in the moonlight (and in the sunshine as well) is really interesting.

Another beech in the moonlight.

Another beech in the moonlight.

The only thing that could have made this even more spectacular would be if the northern lights had occurred at the same time. Years ago when my sister lived in Alaska, she and her family took a walk in the moonlight on a Christmas evening and watched the northern lights dance in the sky above them. Boy, would I like to have seen that.

In my last post I talked about the beauty of trees in the winter landscape but I failed to mention how a covering of snow can make them even more attractive. When fresh snow lays on the trees, their beautiful branch structure is really accentuated.

The towering beeches and maples in the Vermont woods are lovely with their branches topped with a layer of snow. It is especially noticeable deep in the woods where the dark branches are otherwise indistinct.

Hemlock branches droop under the weight of the snow.

Hemlock branches droop under the
weight of the snow.

Evergreens are particularly beautiful when they are covered in snow. The conical shape of spruce, firs, and hemlocks allows them to withstand a heavy snow cover with little or no damage. Their flexible branches droop under the burden and eventually the snow slides off. This trait allows them to survive in areas that receive a tremendous amount of snow and makes for a beautiful sight in the winter landscape.

Happy Holidays to all and here’s to a great gardening season in 2013.

Until next time –
Happy New Year everyone!

A beautiful beech-maple forest on a snowy day.

A beautiful beech-maple forest on a snowy day.

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A cardinal sits in a paperbark maple tree

Have you ever looked at trees in the winter?

Trees against a winter skyI mean REALLY looked? I’m talking about the deciduous trees with their bare limbs silhouetted against the sky. Many of them are really quite beautiful in a simple kind of way.

Driving to work the other day I happened to focus on a large, solitary maple that was in someone’s yard. The bare branches gave the tree such an attractive shape against the brilliant blue sky. It struck me that the “skeleton” of the tree was just as interesting in the landscape as the tree was in full foliage – if not more so. This revelation made me pay closer attention to the other trees around me. Maples, oaks, hickories, sycamores, dogwoods …

A majestic oak silhouetted against the winter sky

A majestic oak silhouetted
against the winter sky

The distinctive growth form and branch structure of these trees, which can really only be seen during the winter, add an element of beauty to the winter landscape. Each species has its own unique pattern. It’s something that you can’t really appreciate in the summer when the trees are covered with leaves but it definitely becomes a major part of the charm of the winter landscape. In fact, tree form, branch structure, and bark texture might be features to keep in mind when choosing the trees and shrubs to plant in your garden or around your home.

If you spend some time in the winter garden, you might be surprised at the subtle beauty and tranquility you will find at this more simple time in the gardening year. The winter landscape is all about muted colors and the bare bones of the garden. It’s not just the form and structure of the trees that provide character to the winter landscape, but also the interesting colors and textures you will find in their bark. In the winter when we aren’t distracted by foliage, the bark becomes a much more prominent characteristic of the trees.

Sycamore trees show their attractive form and beautiful bark in winter

Sycamore trees show their attractive form and beautiful bark in winter

As I neared the nursery, I noticed the large sycamore trees which grow along the creek that flows through one of the fields. The sycamore is a tree that I find to be much more appealing in the winter than at any other time of the year. To me, this is when you can really appreciate the grandeur of this massive tree. The open, wide-spreading crown has a beautiful silhouette against the winter sky. In addition, sycamores have wonderful exfoliating bark on the upper trunk and branches which peels away to reveal a striking white inner bark. Much of this interesting bark pattern is hidden during the summer and only becomes visible in the winter months when the leaves have dropped.

White oak (left) and chestnut oak (right) have very different bark textures.

White oak (left) and chestnut oak (right) have different bark textures.

The oaks are one of my favorite trees when it comes to bark texture. Chestnut oaks have beautiful dark colored bark which is deeply furrowed and coarse while the white oak has light grayish bark that has a finer textured and is almost flaky. So beautiful in the winter!

The American beech is another favorite with a beautiful spreading crown which creates a lovely silhouette in winter. The smooth, silvery, blue-gray bark creates a striking contrast to the bronze colored fall leaves which often persist on the tree throughout the winter.

Beech trees with their smooth blue-gray bark contrast with the bright white bark of a white birch.

Beech trees with their smooth blue-gray bark contrast with the
bright white bark of a white birch in the Vermont woods.

Exfoliating giraffe-like bark of crape myrtle.

Exfoliating giraffe-like bark
of crape myrtle.

There are many other species of trees that have beautiful bark which provides color and interest in the winter landscape. Paperbark maple (Acer griseum) and many cultivars of crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia) have wonderful exfoliating bark which peels away to reveal a rich cinnamon colored inner bark that really stands out in the winter. These bare, leafless trees also have a nice shape at this time of year and, if the seed heads are left on the crape myrtles, they not only provide added interest but they will also supply much needed winter food for the birds.

So, take some time to appreciate the wonderful form that your trees reveal in the winter. Spend a quiet moment or two just observing the simple beauty that can be found at this time of year. Just because there are no colorful flowers around, don’t think that Mother Nature has abandoned her artistry. It just takes on a very different form and you have to look a little harder to see the subtle elegance in the winter landscape.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all!


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A Christmas display at Viette's

Andre Viette loves Christmas!

He also loves to decorate! Walk into his home after Thanksgiving and you will be greeted with the sounds of Christmas music; Mitch Miller (one of my favorites), Bing Crosby, Perry Como, Burl Ives … all the old greats, plus many others. The carols just lift you up and get you into the Christmas spirit. They always remind me of our house when I was growing up; we listened to this very same music on records every Christmas season. Gosh – I’m dating myself!

The Christmas music plays non-stop while Andre is decorating the house – both indoors and outside. He loves it!

A beautiful outdoor Chirstmas display at Viette's

The outside decorations that Andre creates are my favorites. He decorates all the porches and the side of the house with a great variety of beautiful greens that he cuts from his own gardens and from a nearby tree farm. The different contrasts in color and texture of the various evergreen boughs make a really neat display. He mixes in more color by using the berried branches of hollies, Callicarpa (Beautyberry), and Juniper, and loads of different sizes and shapes of cones and seed pods …

Viette front porch at Christmas

Gold pumpkins and gourdsHe also paints a few seed pods, pumpkins, gourds, even oak and magnolia leaves with shiny gold paint to add some additional sparkle to both the indoor and outdoor arrangements. What a neat idea!

Andre incorporates some interesting antique farm tools and pieces of farm equipment into all of his outdoor displays. He also has two old sleighs which he decorates around on the front and back porches. They add a neat old-fashioned touch to the arrangements.

Whoa Dasher, I thought you were supposed to pull the sleigh!

Whoa Dasher, I thought you were
supposed to pull the sleigh!

Inside the displays are just as spectacular. Even here he combines greens, antiques, and colorful Christmas ornaments to create some very unique decorations for the house.

Snow Tree at Viette's

The “snow tree”

The “snow tree” is beautiful with glistening snow coating each ornament covered bough. In the front hallway, the “crystal tree” is filled with handmade crocheted ornaments, beautiful pearl chains, and pearl and crystal ornaments. It is just breathtaking. The mantle in the den is swathed in lustrous gold lamé and decorated with stained glass ornaments and a beautiful stained glass fireplace screen. An antique butter churn is decorated with greens, pine cones, and little Christmas elves. Everywhere you look you see Christmas – a manger arrangement; antique ornaments; old Christmas cards; pine cones; sleigh bells …

Fireplace in the den

Santas on the roof!Santas can be found everywhere – hundreds of them peaking out here and there. Andre’s Santa collection continues to grow each year. One of the fun games for the kids that visit is to count the number of Santas that Andre has nestled in displays around the house! At this point it would take quite a while the count them all. I wonder if Andre even knows …

Wishing everyone a joyous holiday season!

Until next time – Happy Holidays!


Christmas at Viette's

Back porch at Viette's

Porch Display  Santa Display

Santa on the stairs

Mantle arrangement

Antique Ornaments






Christmas display

Crystal tree

The “crystal tree”

Seed pods painted gold

Livingroom fireplace screen

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