Celebrating Nuts and Berries, Sticks and Vines!
by Barbara M. Martin
Gardening in the winter can be tough. Gardening in late fall can be tough, too.
A friend called me the other day and lamented at length over the lack of stuff in her garden. And I thought about it for a minute and said, wait a minute, there's a lot to be thankful for. You have squirrels and acorns, maples and chipmunks, evergreens and birds, vines and berries. Nuts and berries and sticks and vines are a heckuvalot to look at!
Well, the flowers are pretty much done except for bulbs forced to bloom indoors. The sky is gray as much as it is bright, if not more so. Rain and snow will break down and collapse a lot of the annual and perennial stems in the garden, and the birds will have finished the seeds for the most part. So what's left?
More than you might think, if you take the time to look just a little. Tree bark is interesting: some is super smooth, some is scaly rough, enough to make you want to go outside and feel it to see if it is for real. Some trees have branches with big fat stems and dumpy lumpy ends, some have graceful and elegant tips. Trees have overall shapes, too. The ratty windswept pine will show its true form and the brittle willow will weep and break this winter. It happens.
Vines are delightful in the winter, too. The evergreen ivy is a rippling carpet, the twining honeysuckle a living basketry texture. Those gnarled grape vines are a show of strength as they challenge the weather to pull them down. Even the fragile clematis makes its own tracery when dusted with snow. Sometimes I think we appreciate them more now than in any other season.
The barberry bushes have bright red little berries for all the world like Redhot candies. The mimosa trees, beloved by butterflies and hummingbirds in summer, now dangle distinctive seed pods that look like giant crinkle cut french fries. The acorns feed the acrobatic squirrels and the juniper berries show us what must have been the inspiration for the "Williamsburg Blue" paint color. There are so many variations on red and brown and russet and gold and rust and orange and chestnut and tan... no wonder we have so many different names for colors!
The pyracantha bushes flaunt the screaming orange berries, the deciduous hollies sport sparkling red ones on bare stems. Crabapple fruits may hold on all winter, and even come in a banana yellow ('Harvest Gold') as well as assorted shades of red.
Shrubby cousins of the dogwood tree show off bright red or cinnamon or chartreuse stems, while the Japanese maples offer intricate branch patterns and lovely silhouettes. Our native sycamores are beautiful now, big and bold with wildly patchy bark. The old and stately evergreens make a wonderful pattern in the winter landscape and display a color range from icy blue to the deep, dark mysterious greens of the Black Forest. Last but not forgotten , those incredibly varied dwarf conifers make their own rich contribution to the tapestry.
Let's be thankful for the seasons and the richness of nature. Happy Thanksgiving!
About the Author
Barbara M. Martin lives and gardens in rual Pennsylvania.
Regarding her love for gardening, she writes:
"Gardening has become a second career for me and in many ways it draws on disparate parts of my life experience. I have eaten thistle at the age-old port of Lamu on the east coast of Africa, sailed on the dhows in search of treasure and waded through mangrove swamps."
Visit Barbara at Suite 101