One thing that a garden designer always has to keep in mind when creating a landscape is having four seasons of interest. Plants are constantly changing and they look different from month to month -- the visual language of the living landscape revolves and evolves. In the winter months, especially in the chilly weather of Chicago, one is forced to examine and take a closer look at the larger woody specimens. Deciduous trees and shrubs have been stripped of their leaves and what you see after their shedding are the foundation and focal points in the landscape.
Over the past couple of winter weeks I found myself taking note of the form, texture and palette of the trees in the neighborhood and how they relate to their space. The form of a tree is a major factor in creating a successful landscape. Pay attention to its growth habits, the shape of the trunk, the curve of its branches -- it holds just as much importance as the flower and leaf. Is it pyramidal in form? Columnar to perhaps frame a doorway in a stately manner? Weeping like an ever graceful willow to visually soften the landscape? Round or V shaped to create some shade in which to relax under? Or perhaps completely irregular and quirky? Another trait that is overlooked in many cases, is the bark of the tree. To me, the bark is just as important as all other 'showy' aspects of a tree. There is a large variety of bark texture and color out there, just take a moment to check it out. Have you ever seen the bark of a birch bark cherry tree (Prunus serrula)? Go ahead and look it up online if you haven't and you would have to agree that it is quite mesmerizing with its polished rings of mahogany.
If you are taking on a big garden project of your own this year it might be a good time to take that walk for yourself and pay attention to the trees in their 'naked' form. By paying attention to all that a tree has to offer you will understand how it works in the landscape and enjoy its company no matter what season it is. A tree is like a living sculpture. But unlike unobtainable pieces of art trees can be shared by all and in their entirety.
All photos by Tara Heibel