It is a truth universally acknowledged (at least by gardeners), that contact with nature is a way to save our sanity in these increasingly fraught times. Those of us fortunate enough to have a garden are finding that an hour or so of pottering outside is a welcome distraction: monitoring the progress of our veggie or annual flower seedlings, thinking up ideas of how to rearrange an area, propagating a favourite plant to give to a friend (one day) - these activities focus the mind on nature and soothe anxieties. Another way is to go for a walk and admire all that nature has to offer along the way, which is what I did yesterday morning. I walked in my own garden then around the neighbourhood. My attention was on trees, as for some reason I was craving their solidity and strength, and I was musing particularly on the value of deciduous trees, whilst admiring some evergreen specimens as well.
I love to see the intricate tracery of the bare branches of deciduous trees against the changing sky. The first sight I fixated on was my own Japanese maple tree (Acer palmatum), with a fretwork of slim stems criss-crossed against a blue sky with scudding clouds, pushed by a brisk wind. A few evenings ago, the same framework was held against a gorgeous pink and blue sky at sunset, with the moon rising just above it. When they lose their leaves, not only do deciduous provide such alluring scenes, but they also allow welcome sun into the winter garden, so a small deciduous tree is ideal for modern gardens - providing shade in summer for the house and its inhabitants, but more light in the cooler months. They also cast delightful moving shadow patterns on the ground, which I enjoy seeing. Other deciduous trees have endearing shapes when they lose their leaves, such as the plump antler form of the frangipani (Plumeria rubra), and I saw a few of these during my walk.
A number of deciduous trees have beautiful bark, and this is more noticeable in winter when the tree is bare. I admired quite a few crepe myrtle trees (Lagerstroemia indica, pictured at the start of the blog) as I walked along: their bark at this time is so smooth after they have shed the outer layer over autumn and early winter, with wonderful mottled fawn and grey colours. My eye was also caught by the attractive trunk of a big plane tree (Platanus species): a sort of camouflage pattern. I looked up to see it still spangled by its spherical seed pods. It isn't a tree I'd recommend for a home garden but as a street tree, it does a good job of helping keep neighbourhoods cool in summer.
When deciduous trees lose their leaves, they can open up new vistas to our sight. We can see features such as evergreen trees that are normally hidden from view in summer. In my own garden, an enormous Liquidambar tree (another specimen I don't recommend anyone actually plants in their garden!) is now leafless, and I can see many other trees in surrounding gardens, including several magnificent native pine trees, some spruces, an enormous gum tree and a giant silk floss tree (Ceiba speciosa), that are obscured in summer. Whilst I enjoy the privacy, shade and shelter provided by my Liquidambar in summer, I love how my landscape changes when the leaves have gone.
Some deciduous trees have gorgeous flowers in winter and spring, which look stunning on their bare branches. During my walk I admired several bell cherries (Prunus campanulata) with their clusters of dainty, pendulous, cerise blooms, and some Magnolia x soulangeana, their bold pink chalices gleaming in the sun. The dynamism of deciduous trees, as they grow new leaves in spring, which mature over summer and often change to brilliant warm colour tones in autumn before they fall, the bare shape of the tree in winter: all remind us that everything changes, and that these trees provide a kaleidoscopic spectacle in a garden throughout the year.
I saw many birds perched high in trees as I wandered along. Trees provide habitat for many creatures. My walk led me through a secluded park that contains a pocket of what is known as a Blue Gum (Eucalyptus saligna) High Forest Community, a critically endangered ecological remnant, and these majestic specimens with their smooth silvery trunks and rough bark 'stockings' at their bases are home to various creatures, including the Grey-Headed Flying Fox, the Glossy Black Cockatoo and the Powerful Owl, whose eerie call I often can hear at night. These trees inspire awe every time I see them.
In the home garden, a suitably placed small tree connects the house with its surrounding by being a horticultural feature that is on the same scale as the building. Deciduous trees can cool the house in summer and provide sunshine in winter. All trees can give privacy and filter wind, noise and air pollution, and attract birds and insects to the garden. Next Sunday 1 August is National Tree Day, a good time to contemplate the value of trees in our gardens and in the broader landscape, and perhaps think about adding one to your own plot.-
19 Sep 21
Meet some of the ferns that grow well in Sydney,
A garland of daisies
12 Sep 21
Daisies seem to epitomise spring and there are lots to choose from for Sydney gardens.
05 Sep 21
September sees some beautiful and easy-going shrubs come into bloom in Sydney.
Borage and kin
29 Aug 21
The herb borage has some easily grown relatives.
22 Aug 21
Many plants need rejuvenation after a few years.