Late Winter Interest at Tower Hill

Late Winter Interest at Tower Hill

Last week I had the pleasure of attending a conference at Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston Massachusetts. The conference was not exactly what I had been hoping for, but my trip allowed me to visit a truly beautiful garden finishing its long winter sleep, just about to awaken. Tower Hill overlooks the picturesque Wachusett Reservoir; its entry is a long uphill driveway that passes through thick woods, open fields and a small orchard, finally ending in a tiered parking area. A short walk to the main buildings, including its beautiful Orangerie, passes through a stunning gazebo and several welcoming landscapes. A must see garden, especially if you are within driving distance.

Here, at this time of year, the visitor is met with the mostly grays and browns of the late winter landscape. But, on closer inspection, and with minimal exploring, the sleepy garden begins to reveal its secrets. Pleasures not as visible come summer, are revealed. The curly, twisted branching structure of one of my all time favorite plants, Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick (Corylus avellana contorta) seems to explode as the firework trails left behind during a Grand Finale. The Dark Black puffs of Black Pussy Willow (Salix gracilistyla ‘Melanostachy’) cover the plant, and appear as thousands of caterpillars standing on end to greet you. In yet another part of the garden, Coral Bark Willow (Salix alba ‘Britzensis’) glows a radiant red and yellow, bringing an otherwise nondescript evergreen backdrop to life. Click the pictures on the right, and see if any of these garden gems deserve a place in your landscape.

You may have noticed that willows are figuring prominently here, and rightfully so. Willows, as do a good portion of the Dogwood genus, have exemplary bark coloration during the colder months, and as such lend themselves wonderfully to the winter landscape. Willows also serve a vital role in ecological restoration projects. They freely root and create a network of structure in the soil that is invaluable to stream and riverbank restoration. Not all varieties are as aggressive though, and are some are terrifically suited for our smaller residential landscapes. Would you like to see more? Bluestem Nursery in Christina Lake, British Columbia, grows a wonderful assortment of willows, ornamental grasses, and perennials. Their website is a great resource to learn more about these colorful plants. When at the website, click on willows, and you will find a great deal of information including descriptions, their uses and awesome pictures!

Now, if you find yourself longing for a walk through a beautiful garden, but think you have to wait until the spring flush of flowers, I would encourage you to visit a botanic or public garden in your area. You just might be surprised at the variety, interest and color that awaits! Oh, and you can always go back come spring.

See you in the Garden,

Scott

www.blueheronlandscapes.com

Old Man Winter wraps his arms around the garden!
Old Man Winter wraps his arms around the garden!

Here in the Northeast March came in like a lion, and we hope, as the saying goes, it goes out like a lamb. The unusually warm days of late February, had each of us thinking of spring and the many new outdoor projects we are anxious to start. All that was tempered by old man winter, showing up last week, not ready to let go his grasp of the season he commands. Do not despair, for it is the snows of winter that replenish ground water, fill reservoirs, and coat our garden gems with a blanket of white insulation, readying them to set forth as the sun climbs higher and the ground around them thaws.

This is a great time of year to take stock of what was, and what is to come. We look back on the winter garden scene and see the last of its energy in the berries and seed heads that have survived the hungry birds. We see it in the spent foliage, some left to experience in all its winter glory and some left because we simply ran out of time to clean it up. It is a time to view the structure and balance of the garden, a time to discover holes in our design, and rethink the themes we have built on, a time to remember, and a time for opportunity.  This is a time to take a few moments, or hours, and experience our outdoor spaces, take notice of past gardening triumphs and failures, discover the feeling the garden imparts, and be inspired to new ideas and additions.

As the remnants of last year’s season begin to mix with the squishy black tones of the muddy ground as the frost begins to melt away, we are left with a sometimes unsightly composition. But even as the ground oozes and the roadsides reveal the sands of winter plowing, we are heartened by the thought of what is to come over the next few short weeks. Crocus will soon start to appear, giving us hope and refreshing our spirit. Soon after, other bulbs and then the beautiful yellows of our old friendly Forsythia. Before long the Sun will warm our spirit as it does the earth and Spring will dawn again and we will find ourselves in the garden hoeing, turning soil, planting and feeling refreshed. A feeling tempered after those first few days by the aches and stiffness brought on by winter’s complacency, sending us searching for the Ibuprofen. Only then will we feel alive again.

See you in the garden,

Scott

www.blueheronlandscapes.com

The Garden in Winter

The Garden in Winter

Spruce anchor a winter scene
Spruce anchor a winter scene

I stare out the window each morning over coffee, and my thoughts can’t help but speed ahead to the warm days of spring and the first buds to pop. I would find it hard to fight these feelings of longing, were it not for the plants in the garden that provide me with something to enjoy during these stark cold days, plants that display something that gives them winter interest. Consider the elegant trunk of a large Beech Tree, the whimsical shape of a Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick, the elegant evergreen foliage of a False Cypress, or any of the many shrubs that produce fruit and attract wildlife. These plants provide for me, a feast for the senses.

When winter blankets our gardens and leaves us feeling confined and isolated, our gardens are eagerly exposing their bones, sending us an invitation to venture out into the cold to experience a wonderland of sights and sounds. For those of us who prefer not to accept that invitation, the placement of a plant with winter interest within sight of a special window, will provide enjoyment from within the warm confines of the home. Imagine sipping on a hot cup of coffee each morning or sharing late afternoon refreshments with a close friend or two, overlooking a beautiful vignette of ornamental grass covered with snow and back lit by the sun. Breathtaking!

Winter plant interest has taken a back seat to all the new and beautiful foliage and blossom introductions that flood the market each year, but let us also remember to focus on those plants that provide something for us, even as we are forgetting that they are still out there. As you begin to think about your spring projects and plan for new plants, ask yourself what special quality they will provide come winter, and where will they best be viewed. You’ll be glad you did, come next February.

For a fun project, spend a little time during this cold snowy winter exploring your garden. Look at its structure and its plants, determine areas of interest, and even if there are areas of interest. Take a camera with you and snap a few random shots in different directions, then study the photos. Often you will see things in these photos that were not as obvious to the naked eye. Having a photo will also get you back inside and back to that hot cup of coffee!

Here’s hoping you enjoy your winter wonderland,

Scott
www.blueheronlandscapes.com