"A winter walk amidst trees"

Trees can inspire in winter.
Sunday, 25 July 2021     

Crepe myrtles in winter

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.


 Reader Comments

1/9  Norman - 2653 (Zone:8-9 - Cool Temperate to Alpine) Monday, 26 July 2021

Hello Deirdre - i hope that you and your family are all well - thank for all of your stories about gardening and nature - a couple of trees that i like are the chinese elm and birch trees especially love the weeping one's. thank you. Thanks, Norman. Yes weeping trees are gorgeous and they look good in winter too! Deirdre

2/9  Shaun - 2075 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 26 July 2021

Wahroonga Park, sitting in winter sun for a while last week I sat and became aware of the wonderful normal shape of trees around me, fabulous mounded magnolias in full flower also fine black skeletons of deciduous against bright clear blue winter sky., thanks for reminding me Deirdre, Go gently, Shaun That's a great park! The magnolias round my way are all in full bloom now. Deirdre

3/9  Kerrie - 2104 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 26 July 2021

Yes it's so true those of us with a garden are so blessed during lockdown. I hope after all this people will abandon their hardscape pools, BBQ, Firepits & lawn for a couple of proper garden beds & enjoy gardening as the ultimate stress reliever & gym session. Keep safe & healthy. Totally agree! It's so good to be happily 'lost' in the garden in these times. Deirdre

4/9  Bren - 2540 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 26 July 2021

When I bought my place 7 years ago it was very overgrown, and a couple of the deciduous trees; a huge old mulberry and a tangled mess of a chinese pistachio, looked absolutely ugly when they lost their leaves. Over three years I have heavily pruned the pistachio (following an example in the Sydney botanic gardens), and now it looks reasonably attractive. If I have time this winter, I will get stuck into the mulberry, following some examples I have found on You tube; a big job! Great result with that tree! Hope the mulberry also responds well. Deirdre

5/9  Sue - 3723 (Zone:9 - Cool Temperate) Monday, 26 July 2021

Thank you for your lovely thoughts on gardens, trees and lockdown. When we first bought our place 4 years ago, there was not one evergreen/native plant. After much planting I now have a balance, so enjoy them both throughout the year. The garden was so bare in winter that I don't know how the birds managed. Now they are in foody heaven and provide us with so much joy with their antics and beauty. Lockdown for the retired (us) has not been all bad. Yes good to have a mix of exotic and native trees. It's wonderful to have birds in the garden. Deirdre

6/9  Susan - 2430 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 26 July 2021

We all love trees, so why are new suburbs permitted where the blocks are so tiny and the houses so big that trees are impossible to plant? All you see are little box hedges and a few succulents. Gardening should not be just for the wealthy, but increasingly, it is. Sad. Yes I think a tree is essential in the garden to give a garden the right sense of scale; otherwise it can look two-dimensional. Deirdre

7/9  Margaret - 2122 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Tuesday, 27 July 2021

My favourite deciduous tree is the crepe myrtle., with their smooth bark, beautiful crepe flowers and the tracery when the leaves fall. The parrots then arrive and squabbling, feast on the seeds, while performing their acrobatics which amuse and delight. They are gorgeous trees and not too big for modern gardens. Deirdre

8/9  Sue - 2074 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Tuesday, 27 July 2021

Lovely blog. I love looking at the beautiful bark of the self seeded trees in our garden. The pinkish bark of the angophora and the rough bark of the turpentine, possums having stripped some of it for a dray leaving patches of pink. Previous owners planted a camphor laurel (considered a weed) but the bark is lovely to gaze at from the dining room window and it shades the house from the western sun. So thankful for trees. Yes, many native trees have such beautiful bark. Deirdre

9/9  Maureen - 2118 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Tuesday, 27 July 2021

Thanks for sharing your walk - so descriptive and inspiring!! Got out my sunnies and went for a wander after reading it!!! Stay safe. Maureen That's great, Maureen! And the weather over the weekend sounds like it will be superb for gardening and walks! Deirdre

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