It’s been pretty cold lately. Bark peeling cold if you ask the paperbark maple in the Winter Garden. I think he’s just exaggerating – that bark always peels no matter what the temperature. It’s just a complaint to gain some sympathy. But it has been leaf-curling, flower-browning, pond freezing cold.
The camellia flowers in full bloom have turned brown, but the plentiful buds are fine and with a few days of mild weather, new colorful blooms will pop open to once again entertain the hardy souls walking through the Garden. Parts of the lake, Friendship Pond and even the entire boat basin froze over this week. One day I saw a grown man throw pebbles onto the ice and watch them bounce across the frozen surface. Very childlike in his actions, but the skipping stones did make a eerie echo as they hit the surface. Obviously there are a lot of ways to have fun in this Garden.
There are few people about this time of year. The bundled gardeners are out cleaning, raking, pruning but thankfully not too much weeding. A few walkers pass by and a handful of die-hard eagle watchers/photographers are spying on the eagles as they prepare their nest. Everyone is bundled and shivers against the winter air. I give them credit for braving the elements, but they are no match for the true tough guys of winter. People and even many animals retreat to shelters against the cold, but us plants stick it out day and night. The truly tough ones just laugh and bloom in spite of the cold.
The Japanese apricot is one of those trees. Every January if flowers right on time no matter how cold. The bright pink flowers are a highlight for any visitor. Its cousin the cherry always waits until warmer weather in spring, but this tree shows everyone how tough the genus Prunus can be. Winter honeysuckles are starting to bloom, filling the air with a fragrant perfume. Some witch-hazels are putting forth their delicate looking but tough flowers. Of course I think one of the toughest is the wintersweet. There are several specimens in the garden, but the big boys are found on Baker Overlook. These giant shrubs don’t look like much in the summer time – people walk right on past. But now they are covered in translucent yellow flowers with a beautiful scent filling the deck of the overlook. As temperatures drop and folks scurry for cover, it keeps on blooming. How tough is that?
I don’t want to forget all those berry-bearing plants out there now. The hollies are going crazy now and the winterberries are the biggest show-offs. Just like those crazy people who strip down to jump in freezing water, they drop leaves and bare all to show off those berries. Of course they do it all winter and not for a five minute plunge. Other plants are not so exhibitionistic. The Sarcandra, Marlberry and others quietly display their beautiful berries for those who explore the Garden.
So the next time you complain about the cold, remember these true tough guys of winter who not only endure cold weather day and night, but put on a show. The least you could do is come to the Garden and enjoy it.