Cold, sunny days offer a wonderful experience in the Gardens. With few other visitors, the place is yours to wander. This time of year, form is everything. Look for beautifully twisty tree branches, intricate ice patterns, single seed pods set off against the snow, conifers covered in white.
• Easily one of the most interesting winter-time trees in our garden is the Corkscrew Hazel (Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’). Also known as Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick (after an old-time Scottish comedian whose trademark was his walking stick,) its branches twist and turn. Like other hazelnut trees, such as the Turkish Filbert (Corylus colurna), this tree puts out its flowers—in the form of catkins—in the dead of winter; it’s covered in them now. Find this tree outside the west entrance to the Japanese Garden.
• Of course, the Japanese Garden is one of the first places to go for form, with its precisely manicured trees and shrubs. Enjoy the shape of a line of Russian Hawthorns (Crataegus ambigua), just along the path near the teahouse. The branches spiral and weave, creating a structured tapestry. Russian Hawthorns are generally known for their brilliant red berries that persist throughout the winter; however, this year our hawthorns don’t seem to have produced many berries—perhaps due to our unusual summer weather?
• You will come across Barberries (Berberis var.) hanging like bright red teardrop earrings from several bushes around the Gardens. Also be on the lookout for fox tracks crossing the pond ice, or heading off the path into the cover of trees. On a particularly quiet day, you may catch sight of our foxes; I saw one earlier this week. And the patterns in the ice—in streams, fountains, and waterfalls—change daily. Don’t miss the opportunity to appreciate the winter gardens; the first signs of spring will be here before you know it.