Mind Games

One of the responsibilities at our garden center is snow removal. January 23rd and 24th of this year marked a historic storm where the snowfall was measured in feet. New York City’s Central Park missed an all time record by only 1/10th of an inch and locally, where we live in central New Jersey, 24-30 inches was the norm. Trapped in my skidsteer for nearly as many hours as we had inches of snowfall was monotonous and at the time seemed never-ending. I remember thinking, “we’re losing” as Mother Nature continually dumped snow faster than we could clear it. The only thing that kept me going, quite frankly, was the snow-covered trees.

I have never sugar coated the fact that of all my responsibilities, snow plowing is my least favorite. Banging equipment off Belgium block, slipping and sliding on slopes and trying to find the outer boundary markers is difficult, to say the least, when a storm dumps that much snow that fast. Fortunately, for me, there are some gorgeous trees on the commercial site that we manage and that was enough to see me through.

The condominium complex that we manage has 10 different sub units within itself and I try to focus on at least one plant type in each development. A mind game for me alone, it gives me something to look forward to while helping to keep my sanity as I continue to make those repetitive circles plowing snow.  The first development we start in, I always look forward to the small grove of American Planetree or Sycamore, Platanus occidentalis. The bark on this tree is a dead give away with its smooth, flaking, irregular pieces showcasing grayish, cream colored inner bark. This group of larger trees is mature enough to appreciate the “mottled appearance” of the bark that many wait years to see. Of course, the rounded fruit of achenes that are about 1” in diameter and appear singly are a tell tale sign too.

A pair of Southern Magnolia, Magnolia grandiflora ‘Little Gem’, continues to impress me as they thrive in a zone 6 climate. Years ago our company apprehensively planted this evergreen magnolia type at the request of the customer. Sited on the south side of the property these rugged, diminutive trees continue to defy textbook hardiness, producing abundant fragrant, white flowers even after being encased in snow and ice year after year.

A beautiful weeping white spruce, Picea glauca ‘Pendula’, is a fastigiate piece of architecture that holds the snow in all its nooks and crannies. A towering 30-foot conifer that even has a bird’s nest near its top. This outstanding selection was “rediscovered” by the late Jean Iseli, of Iseli Nursery in 1982 at the Morton Arboretum in Illinois. The original specimen had grown since 1958 and it’s “geyser-like appearance” was apparently enough to hold his attention. Stiffly held, dropping branches display light, gray-green foliage with hints of blue and fall gracefully near the trees central leader.

During those long arduous hours, that almost always seem to come in the middle of the night, I try to do whatever I can to keep my mind alert. Riffling through as many botanical names as I can, while I pile snow near or on top of these and other plants, helps pass the time away. Winter interest can be just as rewarding as any other season. I just wish Mother Nature hadn’t been so liberal with her white paintbrush all at once!