Sometimes they look better naked…

I have been determined this year to celebrate beauty in the winter landscape beyond evergreen plants, still standing perennials and grasses.   In the clearly defined four seasons in New Jersey,  winter can seem barren and devoid of  much that we find interesting in gardens.  If  we can’t put our love of bloom and foliage aside, there seems to be nothing left except to wait for spring.  Not so.

A small copse of native ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica)

I am lucky to live and design gardens where there are abundant varieties of deciduous trees.  In winter, their bark’s textural interest can create a cold season landscape that is elegant and subtle in its beauty.  Bark is the unsung hero of the winter landscape.

Heptacodium micronioides in the winter landscape

Years ago I took  a class in winter tree identification.  Before that I depended on foliage as a way to identify a tree.  Since then, bark and branching structures have been the main features I use even in the summer.

Heptacodium miconioides bark (Seven sun flower)

In the stark, low light of mid-winter bark’s texture and wide range of colors and patterns are enhanced.  In the overcast grey of January they become beacons in a neutral winter landscape.

Acer griseum (Paperbark maple)
Stewartia pseudocamelia (Japanese Stewartia)

Even during a January thaw without the contrast of a snowy background these textures are complex and interesting.

Cornus mas (Cornelian cherry dogwood)
Acer saccharum (Sugar Maple)
Acer palmatum 'Sango kaku' (Coral bark maple)
Salix contorta sp. (Corkscrew Willow)

Some trees, and many more shrubs have bark that is so much more than grey.  Bark can also add a punch of color to the winter’s neutral color palette.

A grove of limbed up Picea abies and Pinus strobus (Norway Spruce and Eastern White Pine)

By no way complete, here is a short list of other trees whose bark enlivens the winter landscape.

Highly patterned jigsaw like bark: Platanus occidentalis (American poplar) taupe and white jigsaw bark, Pinus bungeana (Lacebark pine) shades of green and grey, Cornus kousa (Chinese dogwood)- taupe, brown and ivory, Lagerstromia indica (Crape Myrtle) –rust and tan,  Ulmus parviflora (Chinese elm)–intricately patterned bark that I wrote about in a previous post

Striking bark color: Betula jacquemontii (Himalayan Birch) stark white and exfoliating bark, Fagus grandifolia (American beech) smooth pale grey, Pinus densiflora (Japanese red pine) –russet

Highly textured bark: Carya ovata (Shagbark hickory),  Acer pensylvanicum (Snakebark maple), Betula niger (River Birch),
Metasequoia glyptostroboides (Dawn redwood), Cornus florida (Flowering dogwood), Malus sp. (Crabapple varieties)

8 thoughts on “Sometimes they look better naked…

  1. That’s the biggest paperbark maple I’ve ever seen! Amazing. I love Heptacodium too. Thanks for posting.

    Those ARE two of the most beautiful paperbarks I’ve seen. There’s a bigger one in another area of this arboretum but its exfoliating bark isn’t as dramatic. Love, love, love the color.

  2. Winter gives us the opportunity to cleanse our palettes before the explosion of color and bloom again in spring. What is the building in the background of the sugar maple? It intrigues me.

    Thanks for the great post!

    The Colonial Revival house is the former summer house of a branch of the Frelinghuysen family, now it is the headquarters of the Morris County Parks Commission and the property is the Frelinghuysen Arboretum. Here’s a link.

  3. Louisville has added bunches of River Birches and some Paperbarks down by the Ohio in their developing River Walk area. I am a huge lover of each. That Sangu Kaku, by the way, is about as large as any I have seen. I’ve planted scads of those and their color in slightly more moderate climates is red beyond the imagination – like a flame. Great post. It is so cool to see the various barks described here, thanks.

    I’ve been watching that maple grow since it was first planted in 1999. It’s almost 15′ tall now and a redhead! Happy to bark about bark!

  4. Class on winter tree identification is intriguing. Where was it offered and do you know if it is still?

    The class is still offered through Cook College at Rutgers in their professional education series. 11 weeks of trees and shrubs. Well worth the experience.

  5. Susan,
    Great winter shots, most of all I love the super cool spreading Seven Son!

    Thanks, Bill. If I recall correctly you were growing some Heptacodium in Ohio…

  6. I loved this post Susan, being a great fan of trees in winter myself. It’s the textures of bark, enhanced by low sun grazing across it; it’s the colours which, as you said, are so much more subtle in muted, overcast, daylight than the often “bleached” look they have in high-contrast summer sun; it’s the atmospheric, almost melancholy, feel of a shapely tree skeleton emerging from mist. It’s something to celebrate, to delight, in the changes of the seasons that bring so much dynamism to a landscape which could not be achieved with just a “static” evergreen display.

    Change is constant.

  7. Just saw your blog listed on the GWA site…I LOVE the name, how many times did I read that book with my kids, and then take it on as a guiding principle to life! We seem to be on the same page about winter, things are happening, they’re just a bit more subtle. Nice photos, nice writing. Stop by my blog and visit some time.

    Thanks for stopping by. I hope you’ll come again…I’ll stop by your blog too.

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