I met garden designer and author Rosemary Verey when I was a student at the University of Manchester. She was such an inspiration to me that I made it a mission to keep in touch. When she came to the states for book tours I attended her lectures and contacted her whenever I was in Great Britain. It was years ago at the Dixon Gallery and Gardens in Memphis that I heard her speak about her book The Garden in Winter. There is a line in this book that I just love. "If our gardens are to be more than graves commemorating summer’s beauty, we must start by using our eyes." She goes on to discuss how she noticed that her garden would take a backseat to the surrounding countryside during the winter months. It seemed that her garden was designed with just the growing season in mind, but Mother Nature created a landscape with year round interest. So she began to look at winter with fresh eyes. Even on the grimmest winter day there was something to admire – a frost covered seed head, rain soaked hues of gray, brown and lichen green, or sunlight reflecting off an evergreen hedge.
I had the opportunity to put this philosophy to practice when I visited the New York Botanical Garden one winter. That’s right, I purposely toured the gardens in winter and I have to say that the trip was a great inspiration to me. I used my eyes as Rosemary instructed and discovered a whole world of possibilities.
I found the trees at the Botanical Garden to be particularly eye catching. Their silhouettes really popped out against the dormant landscape. And the barks! Some of the trees really had amazing color and texture to their bark. I only wished that I had room in my garden to squeeze in one of those tree.
Sadly, I don’t, but perhaps you do. Here is a list of 5 outstanding trees with interesting bark that will add color, texture and form to a garden any season of the year.
Whenever space allows I recommend a maple. They are an excellent shade tree in summer and most offer brilliant autumn color. The paperbark maple has the added bonus of a flaky, orange brown bark. Its lovely contrasted with spring greens and winter grays. Grows 30′ tall x 30′ wide, deciduous, slow growing, zones 4 – 9.
Pinus densiflora ‘Umbraculifera’
Not only does this tree have striking red bark, but the form is exceptional as well. An evergreen dome sits atop multiple, twisting trunks. In addition to the bark, the winter buds are a deep brown-red. Grows 12′ tall x 20′ wide, evergreen, slow growing, zones 4 – 8.
London Plane Tree
Platanus hispanica syn. Platanus x acerifolia
I recommended this tree to a friend who has a home in the country. It’s a tree that needs a lot of room to grow. The bark is a lovely patchwork of brown, gray and cream. Grows 100′ tall x 70′ wide, deciduous, zones 5 – 8.
This tree is a chameleon. It starts out conical like a Christmas tree, but as it matures, it develops into a more irregular form with a flat top. As the tree ages the smooth bark becomes flaky creating round light green and cream patches that fade to reddish brown and gray-green. Grows 30 – 50′ tall x 15 ‘ 20’ wide, evergreen, slow growing, zones 4 – 7.
Coral Bark Japanese Maple
Acer palmatum ‘Sango-kaku’
This Japanese maple has striking red bark that is prominent in the fall and winter. The autumn foliage is a bright, yellow-orange. This tree prefers shade in the afternoon in warmer climates. Grows 20′ tall x 15′ wide, deciduous, zones 5-8.
Good to Know: Selecting the Right Tree for Your Garden
Before you select a tree, take note of the area where you want to plant it. Is the location in sun or shade? What type of soil does it have? Is the area soggy or well drained? Your tree will grow and thrive if make sure the site matches the tree’s optimum growing conditions.
Another important consideration is to compare the site to the expected size of the tree.
You will also need to consider proximity to buildings, sidewalks and other hardscape features. Tree canopies and root growth can be troublesome if planted in the wrong spot.