After a wet and windy Christmas the garden looks very dishevelled, but already there are signs of spring. More Daffodils are beginning to shoot through the ground, their green leaves standing defiantly in the now sodden soil and winter flowers are being coaxed from their buds adding flashes of colour.
The beauty of mature trees never ceases to make me smile and through the winter months and when they are devoid of leaves their lovely shapes come to the fore. We need look no further than our native species to give a wide range of leaf shapes and bark colours – from Ash (Fraxinus) with its black buds nestled into the silver-grey twigs to gracious Beech trees with their papery pointed buds and smooth, huggable trunks.
Parkland in winter takes on a new look with rugged old Oaks; their gnarled bark and neat dome-like shapes punctuating grassland and providing shelter for stock as well as a home for countless wildlife. Hornbeam (Carpinus) too, are beautiful in winter with their neat, ascending branches that create the perfect lollipop shape, making this one of the best for kerbside and town planting. Hornbeam leaves glow golden yellow in autumn before falling, although like Beech they will hold onto some of them through the winter, only shedding them as the twigs begin to sprout new ones in spring.
My favourite native trees have to be mature Birch (Betula pendula) with gnarled grey-white bark and an elegant, weeping habit which makes them so easy to distinguish amongst others. There really is nothing like their graceful silhouettes in winter when they are devoid of leaves. Young trees are upright but a full grown specimen is a great sight with slender twigs hanging from the branches, giving a frothy look. Although they are often seen on sandy and other dry soils, the ‘Lady of The Woods’ or ‘Silver Birch’ is unfussy but needs plenty of room to grow to its full potential.
Silvery barked Populus tremula (Aspen) is another native easily distinguished in winter by its upright habit and pale grey bark. The name ‘tremula’ is a good description as the glossy, rounded leaves are never still and tremble in even the slightest of breezes making it very easy to pick out in summer. Next time you strike a match, remember that it may well be made from one of these trees!
Some trees have curious corky ‘winged’ bark and our native Field Maple (Acer campestre) is one of them. This beautiful small tree has plenty going for it. It makes a great hedge on its own or planted with other natives and has soft green leaves through summer which are an attractive and very distinguishable shape. In autumn the leaves turn butter yellow before falling to reveal the unusual bark. Acers are a huge group of trees, including Japanese Maples and the Canadian ‘Red Maple’ (Acer rubrum) which appears on their flag. The Field Maple is arguably the only British native – even the humble Sycamore was introduced from mainland Europe originally!
As winter changes to spring, trees slowly put on their new livery and the landscape becomes soft and green once again.