Planting a tree is a selfless task. You really plant for future generations! You get the satisfaction of planting and watching them grow, but others will bask in their majestic maturity.
When I was a small child, my Father would take me for long walks through the dales of Derbyshire and teach me to identify a tree from its leaf, bud and bark. A challenge that I relished especially in the winter months. He taught me to look and observe the subtleties of a tree, the colour of the bud, the pattern of a leaf and the texture of its bark. Little did he know that I would be doing this in a professional capacity in later life and just how many hundreds of trees I would go on to buy and plant.
I think there are stages in your gardening life that you go through. We start off loving the flowers and the colour and then we discover the shapes and forms of the plant. Then on a deeper level you start to appreciate its details and it subtleties.
A deciduous tree bares all in the winter months and it’s the subtleties that make them so beautiful and beguiling. The skeletal form reveals the most wonderful structure. The bark of the tree is as unique to the species as our own fingerprints are to us.
Above – Betula jacquemontii
From glistening whites to ebonised black, they can be as smooth as satin to the touch or as rough and as deeply lined as a splintering rock face.
They bring a different dimension to your garden or landscape, the light will dance on the glow of the mahogany bark of Prunus or glisten on the ghostly outline revealed of a betula jacquemontii.
Above left – Prunus himalaica
When it comes to choosing a tree for its winter interest the list can be endless but here are a few of my absolute favourites.
The gnarled and deeply ravined bark of a mature Cercidiphyllum japonica looks as if it’s from an enchanted forest. When you stand and stare, the characterful folds begin to reveal themselves.
Above left Ceridiphyllum japonica Above right – Spanish sweet chestnut
The corkscrew affect of the mature bark of a Spanish sweet chestnut twists clockwise and vertically as if pulled by the hand of a giant.
The constantly flaking and changing bark of the eucalyptus, not that its deciduous but the bark is most beguiling and appears to glow in the winter light.
The creased bark of an English Oak tree appears to have more in common with the leg of a matriarch African elephant than the English countryside.
The cinnamon coloured flaking bark of Acer griseum, a tree that really does require you to have lots of patience and a long life, as it is incredibly slow growing. It is the ultimate small tree for a small space or garden and always draws the eye at this time of year .
Above left – English Oak Querus robur Above right – Acer griseum
Stewartia pseudocamellia as it matures it develops the bark that resembles the pattern more familiar to that of a leopard.
Above – Stewartia pseudocamellia
Pinus sylvestris another evergreen but native to the UK, should never be overlooked. The large scales on the mature trees trunk look quite reptilian and as the tree matures the bark takes on a rosy coppery glow.
Above – Pinus sylvestris
Betula albosinensis has to be one of my favourite of the Birch tree family. The peeling papery bark has a glorious glow and a range of colours from darkened copper to the palest of pinks.
Above left – Betula albosinensis Above right – Eucalyptus pasiflora
Eucalyptus pasiflora an evergreen from the the Antipatees has a bark that peels in long papery strips to reveal the most glorious creamy white striped pattern underneath.
As you can tell the list of trees is endless but remember the first line of the poem by WH Davies when you’re walking along ‘What is this life if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare’. If you don’t you will be missing one of nature’s treats!