Have you ever looked at trees in the winter?
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 …
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.
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.
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.
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!