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