Appreciate Your Favorite Tree When It Is Naked
There is only one thing I like about winter and that is looking at trees without their leaves. Trees are my favorite garden plant (today anyway). They are enduring. They define the paths through my garden. The high canapé gently shades my hosta while providing a jungle gym for the squirrels. The birds have built numerous nests dotted here and there. Now it is the time of the year just for trees. A painter’s nude is a pale imitation of what nature can do with a slumbering tree.
Where Tree Meets Ground
There are some trees that are interesting because of how they come up out of the ground. My favorite is the female walnut. You can tell when a tree is more female or male tending by how robustly they grow. These black walnuts create their own hill. Every year they push up out of the ground more and more. My favorite is a huge tree with a stupendous artificial hill it rests on.
Then there are those that have unusual loops and hollows where a root is missing and the trunk has not started above. Some of these curious cavities don’t seem to affect how well a tree grows upwards. They provide interesting places to find tucked away curiosities like turtles or special woodland plants. I occasionally plant a fern in these spots.
Bark and Blemishes
Bark of course is another consideration. I received a river birch seedling a good 15 years ago from a friend. I can’t plant a thing under the tree because the roots are everywhere. I don’t care because I can see the flaking bark that adds incredible interest to the winter garden. I love my shag bark hickories for the same reason. I don’t have any smooth barked trees except for some fruit trees. I love the checkered deep black color of the wild cherry. The “muscle-ly” ridges that run like irregular veins on the walnut are virile beauty.
Wounds are the next interesting thing about trees. I have an ancient oak that must have been hit by lightning many years before I bought my property. Over the years the wound festered and died. It draws my attention every time I walk around the garden. It is one of those morbid inspections. This tree is more than 6 feet diameter. It will come down someday. Fortunately only the neighbor’s electric service run is the worst damage it can cause. It is so large it has discouraged near trees to lean away from it for light.
Have you ever noticed that branches don’t touch each other? I look up in the winter all the time. Sometimes I want to figure out how the squirrels get from one tree to another. Sometimes I am looking to see if there is possible disease. This shows up at the tips of branches first. There are quite a few Sassafras trees growing on the far south edge of my property. They have a tendency to suddenly die and rot at various places at various times. The rot draws bugs which in turn draw woodpeckers. I like to pass on my condolences when I see this. Like my oak, it is not necessary that a tree will die immediately. Sometimes these things linger for many years.
I know this may seem weird. I like to watch a dead tree as well. They are still a huge part of the habitat. Woodpeckers dig holes that small birds often redecorate for their own nesting. Mushroom sprout here and there. The color is an organic tone when the bark falls away that contrasts with living bark. Dead trees are left standing as long as it isn’t threatening building. Dead trees are necessary for life. It is a different story when they fall. I use fallen trees as part of my natural bridges across my deep ravine.
I love the overall shape of a slumbering tree. I have trees that fit a space simply because they have defined the space then dominated it. I love the bark. I love the life that lives on the bark too. It is my spring harbinger to watch the lichen flush. This is most dominant as daylight hours are increasing as well as the temperatures into a steady 40ish degree Fahrenheit. I love the blemishes, blotches, holes, dead limbs and occasional major wound that has never healed. I love how the tree transforms to the roots at ground level.
No matter whether you are looking at a tree as part of the landscape or whether you are appreciating you giant up close, I think it would be in your best interest to take a peek at them in their all natural.