Signs of spring are here, but winter has not released its hold yet. Mild days intermingle with cold days and it is easy to see why people can get sick in the changing weather. Fortunately I don’t have sinuses so that’s not a worry for me, but the gardeners sure are. They seem to be out more now, pruning, weeding and cleaning the detritus of winter from the flower beds. Dangerous times for me indeed.
But the signs of spring are here. The later winter/early spring plants are blooming. Unlike later in the spring, where masses of flowers overwhelm the eyes with color, these hardy bloomers are scattered across the Garden. It’s as if they are trying to help you keep that New Year’s resolution to exercise – you have to walk around to see them all. But it’s worth the effort. Clumps of bright daffodils are dotted across the landscape. In the arboretum a few magnolias and even a cherry are starting to bloom while in NATO vista crocus are sprinkled across the lawn. Camellias are scattered across the Garden’s landscape, putting out flowers for passers-by to enjoy. Winter honeysuckle and daphne announce their presence with their fragrance. Witch hazels hide shyly in wooded areas. There are many of the fragrant Japanese Paperbush spread throughout the Garden. I am not sure if they are part of a massive scavenger hunt or if some giant in the sky is using them for a connect-the-dots drawing on the surface of the landscape.
With the gardeners working so darned diligently, I’ve had to take refuge in the Rhododendron Glade. I am sitting quietly in a small clearing, surrounded by a minefield of sweet gum balls. Hopefully that will keep people at bay for a while.
Hiding has turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Right now there are no flashy flowers in this part of the garden (other than me). But I have really come to appreciate the subtle beauty of the winter woodland landscape. When the leaves drop and winter sets in, most people think there is nothing but drab grays, browns and some green from the evergreens. While the colors may become muted, this is the time to appreciate the textures and forms of the bare trees. Looking at the forest, there can be a certain monotone feeling, but look at the trees and the variety is astounding.
First, the range of textures is quite interesting – from the large blocky chunks of the loblolly pine to the smooth, mottled kousa dogwood. A variation of striations, furrows, ridges and scales can be seen on a number of different trees.
The forms are just as intriguing. The pines shoot straight up and explode with needles near the top. The Southern Red oaks are upright citizens of the forest with a classic single trunk rising to the winter sky before spreading out grandly. Maples are a little more exuberant and spread their branches closer to the ground but still fill the space. Dogwoods, redbuds and other understory trees fling their branches wide like wild little children running around under the grownups. Each tree is itself even more unique. This pine has a funny lean, this oak is missing branches on one side, that dogwood’s trunk looks like it has been braided, that crabapple is all twisted funny. Why? They must have some interesting stories to tell.
So the next time you come to the Garden, looking for flowers, take a moment to visit a wooded area like the Rhododendron Glade. Look up – for two reasons – 1) you won’t see me and rat me out to a gardener, 2) you will see some very subtle yet astonishing beauty in the trees over your head. As spring comes and they clothe themselves in leaves once more, the aesthetic changes. They are still very beautiful, perhaps more so, but you don’t want to miss the naked beauty of these trees in winter.
Uh-oh. A gardener just drove up with a trailer and several rakes. This doesn’t look good . . .