Let’s all make a New Year’s resolution to visit an arboretum or botanical garden during the next few months while it is winter. Yes, most botanical gardens and arboretums are open to visitors in the winter. You laughingly say, “don’t be ridiculous, it is cold and wet. And, what could we see anyway?” No, it is not silly, as long as the roads are safe, bundle up and take a walk.
There is a lot to see and things to learn. For instance, my friend Barbara from Levittown and I came home from a winter walk with more information about different types of tree and shrub seed distribution methods. But that wasn’t all we noticed.
The structure—what is otherwise known as the bones of any garden—is never more strikingly obvious as when silhouetted in white. It can be trees, shrubs, stone outcroppings, a pond, a fountain, fences, pathways or anything that adds definition to your outdoor space. A garden that has good structure looks interesting throughout the year and adds distinctness to your space. Garden structure shows the silhouettes of the plants and trees, the curves and paths created by the borders and the structural elements that project the spirit of your own special space. By structural elements, I mean the spatial design that can include a major feature such as a fountain, an arbor, a group of trees, a shed or garden area dedicated to one concept or plant. Walking through the woods and then glimpsing a waterfowl land on a lake would be an extreme example of structural element, but to bring it the level of a home garden, a bench under a group of trees that invites visitors to sit and enjoy view would be an achievable example of a structural element.
There are many different types of gardens and collections of plants to see when visiting an arboretum such as Planting Fields, Bailey Arboretum or Old Westbury Gardens in Nassau County, Bayard Cutting Arboretum in Suffolk County, The New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx or the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.
Each arboretum or botanical garden was developed within the context of the geography of the site, the views and the surrounding environment. Therefore, each has its own famous special collection, e.g. an azalea walk, a conifer garden, a rose garden, cherry tree walk or a Japanese garden. Each offers an exclusive study of the concept of layout, size, shape and other garden structure and design ideas.
When you walk through large, planned arboretums and botanical gardens in the quiet and starkness of wintertime, you can see concepts of garden planning and design much more clearly. The serenity will let your mind seek to apply similar ideas for your own garden. Plants and shrubs that stand up well to our winters will be very noticeable and will give you food for thought.
So, winter is the time to step outside and walk around your own property to look directly at your garden when there is nothing to mask problem areas. Winter is a very good time to see where additions or changes can improve and enliven your own backyard and start planning for the upcoming season. Make a list of plants that caught your interest, then see if its requirements can be met someplace in your yard that will improve the overall bones of your garden. One of the greatest enjoyments of gardening is planning additions and improvements. It can enrich your outdoor experience. Enjoy your winter garden.
The Long Island Horticultural Society meets on Sunday afternoon at 1:30 p.m. at Planting Fields Arboretum in Oyster Bay. The next meeting is on Jan. 24 and will be held in the Hay Barn. The speaker is Vincent A. Simeone, a horticulturist and the garden director at Planting Fields Arboretum. His topic will be “Creating Stunning Gardens for Beginners” from his New York and New Jersey Garden Guide book series. For more information, go to www.lihort.org.