Winter garden walks offer new perspective

By Mandy L. SMITH

Fellows Riverside Gardens

During the winter, a garden walk can offer new perspectives and details that one misses during the days of colors and blooms.

Structure and contrast become prominent, and one finds delight in the patterns provided by the plants.

Here at Fellows Riverside Gardens, the bare bones create the foundation for the rest of year with our seasonal displays. They become the backdrop, or what I like to call the “canvas.”

As one walks through the perennial garden up to the North Terrace, the white pines (Pinus strobus) and hemlocks (Tsuga canadensis) stand out brilliantly green.

The gardens’ boundaries are full of mighty oaks (Quercus sp.) and maples (Acer sp.), which seem like they are grasping the sky.

The repetitive branching of jagged edges is what mathematicians call fractals. Fractals are “infinitely complex” composed of never-ending self-similar patterns and are found everywhere in nature from plant root systems to rivers to fern fronds.

Fractals are classified under the new geometry that goes beyond our triangles, rectangles and linear structures.

There have been numerous studies of fractals and their appeal through art and their aesthetics to the overall population.

Winter may be one of the best seasons to see trees in all their fractal glory, and for me, they have a soothing and appealing way that strengthens my connection to nature.

Another fascinating aspect of winter gardens are the textures found along the way.

Tree bark stands out defiantly, tempting one to touch it.

My personal favorite bark textures are the beech (Fagus sp.) and paper birch (Betula papyifera).

A beech trunk reminds me of an elephant leg – gray, straight and sturdy. Upon closer inspection, wrinkles appear and light gray, white or even a pale green spotting is found on the bark in the form of lichens.

The American beech (Fagus grandifolia) also holds its leaves through most of the winter season, adding a melody as one passes by.

Paper birch lights up the winter garden with its white, flaky bark.

Again, this bark is smooth to the touch, but it is marked by transverse (extending across) lenticels.

Lenticels are like plant blisters that add unique texture but also function as a pathway in which gases can diffuse to the living cells of the tree bark.

I encourage everyone to go out and discover their own favorite tree barks and maybe give that tree a hug for providing structure all year long. Take the time this winter to enjoy these details of your garden and/or your favorite public garden.

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