Between the outstanding fall colors of deciduous trees and the early spring blooms of Cherries, Magnolia and Forsythia there, sometimes, is a perceived notion that nature is on hold. Winter doldrums can get the best of us, leaving us longing for the arrival of spring. The truth is there is so much to appreciate in the calm of winter that simply cannot be seen any other time of year. Couple this with an occasional white background and gardening takes on a whole new appreciation.
Certainly walking around your yard or neighborhood you can find some outstanding trees to look at. However, visiting arboretums and gardens often guarantees you and up close and personal look at specimens which have taken years to become. There is a quite calm walking around these gardens this time of year which is only broken up by the crunch of the ground as you walk across mulched beds.
There are several unique gardens to look at this time of year and all are in close proximity. Reeves-Reed Arboretum in Summit, New Jersey is a “suburban conservancy dedicated to environmental and horticultural education for children and adults and to the enjoyment of nature through the professional care and preservation of a historic country estate.” Their sunken garden is a personal favorite of mine but equally exciting this time of year is their winter interest garden. You can test your horticultural skills by identifying bark, berries and the occasional flower. Let’s not forget their European Beech (Elephant tree) aptly named for its bark which resembles that of an elephant’s skin. All this is worth the trip however, make it a point to revisit the arboretum in the early spring for the daffodil bowl….trust me.
The Cross Estate Gardens in Bernardsville, New Jersey has characteristics of the Arts and Crafts period. Interesting year round attractions include their Silver Maple and Chinese Sequoia. Their wisteria-covered pergola, typically brings visitors in the spring and summer, has fantastic structure and lines this time of year to admire. In addition to the formal and native gardens, “the grounds of the Cross Estate provide hiking trails that connect to trails in the Jockey Hollow, Lewis Morris Park, and the Scherman-Hoffman Wildlife Conservancy.”
The Leonard J. Buck Garden in Far Hills, New Jersey is one of the premier rock gardens in the eastern United States. Donated to the Somerset County Park Commission by Mrs. Helen Buck in 1976, the gardens are situated in a 33 acre wooded stream valley among some of the most coveted real estate in New Jersey. A naturalistic garden, the large rock outcroppings are clearly visible in the winter months showcasing rare and exotic rock garden plants.
The Rutgers Gardens in New Brunswick, New Jersey I may be somewhat biased to. A graduate of Rutgers University some years ago, this garden is a collection of gardens which spread over some 50 acres. Highlights include the largest collection of American Hollies in the world, a Shade Tree Collection, the Roy H. De Boer Evergreen Collection (anyone who has ever taken a class of his at Rutgers could never forget him), the Ornamental Tree Collection and a Bamboo Forest to name a few. Their ornamental tree collection alone is enough to entice visitors in the colder winter months. The state’s largest Paperbark Maple (Acer griseum) and their Kousa Dogwood (patches) both have exfoliating bark and are two of the nicest specimens you will ever see.
Finally, The New York Botanical Gardens in the Bronx, New York is one of the most awe inspiring gardens I have ever been to. The famed Enid A. Haupt Conservatory is the man made structural staple that most remember. Too many gardens to list, there are two formidable trees which I can never forget from here. The first, Persian Ironwood (Parrotia persica) is a tree indigenous to Iran and has a most dramatic bark appeal. Showcasing colors of gray, green, white and brown the bark reminds me of that of Pinus bungeana (Lacebark Pine). Taking considerable time to have this as a characteristic, you can imagine its age. Second is a stand of Tanyosho Pines (Pinus densiflora ‘Umbraculifera’). These shrub-like multi-trunk trees have the most beautiful orange to orange-red markings with a touch of gray at the base. The bark becomes fissured into oblong plates with age. This stand of trees is no less than 25 feet tall.
Now I know much of this can be lost to a non plant person. But, if you have some time this winter try visiting one of these tranquil places. Who knows you may become a tree-hugger after all.