Gardening: Favourite timber


By Henry Homeyer
| Especially for the journal

I recently asked a few readers, gardening enthusiasts and tree experts a question: “What is your favorite tree in winter?” It is not easy to choose just one, any more than most of us would be willing to name a favorite child. I invite you to ponder the question, and maybe you want to plant one in the spring if you haven’t already.

Pamela Kirkpatrick of Swansea, Massachusetts sent the following: “I love the winter landscape, and next to my family, trees are my greatest love. American holly that comes into its own in winter – both for its gleanings and the way it reflects light. Book any kind to show your muscular trunk when it is not in the leaf. White pine, as annoying as its brittle limbs, because an owl lives here that returns every winter and serenades us with its reputation. “”

Lynn Schadd from Cornish, New Hampshire wrote by email: “For me, Amur Maackia is the best four-season tree in the garden. And right now, its gorgeous bark steals the show, peeling, curling, and displaying plates of designer colors, all of which are easy to see as the tree has no oak-like aspirations for size. “

Lisa Lovelette of the Waterbury Center in Vermont wrote, “My favorite winter tree is the white pine. I’m a hobby photographer, and nothing beats a stately white pine tree in front of a beautiful Vermont sunset, sunrise, or majestic sky. A rising, bright and bold full moon in the background makes the clad pine stand out. “

Anne Raver of Providence, is a former horticultural clerk for the New York Times. Here is what she said: “My favorite tree is the scarlet oak, or the white oak, or the red oak, any kind of oak. They support hundreds of insect species whose caterpillars feed on the leaves and provide the birds with vital food. The red and scarlet oaks are also beautifully colored. “

Donnamarie Kelly of Salem, New Hampshire wrote: “My favorite winter tree is by far the hemlock. When I am laden with snow, the branches remind me of ballerina hands that gently fall down. Hemlocks are full and give the feeling of being in the ‘forest’ even if they are in a simple grove with two or three trees. “

Julie Moir Messervy is a world-renowned garden designer and the author of many great gardening books. She emailed: “Our Vermont land, like so many, was an old sheep farm. My favorite tree (in winter and all year round) is a stately white oak (Quercus alba), possibly from the 19th century. To me it is a ‘cosmic tree’ that shields and protects our deck and porch from the harsh western sun while opening its branches to the cool summer winds. In winter squirrels, porcupines and at least 13 species of birds live here … “

Christine MacManus from Narragansett, E-Mail: “A favorite winter tree of mine is the stewartia of a neighbor with its wonderful bark made of mottled patterns and colors. I kept an eye on this tree for 40 years, sometimes pulling mulch away from the trunk torch. And of course the summer flowers are a bonus too. “

My favorite tree author Mike Dirr, author of Manual of Woody Landscape Plants, couldn’t limit himself to one or two. He wrote by email: “I love Nyssa sylvatica (black tupelo), Fagus grandifolia (American beech), Quercus alba (white oak), Liriodendron tulipifera (tulip tree) and Quercus bicolor (white swamp oak) to start with.”

I know Dirr is particularly fond of “majestic trees” – trees that tower over the landscape and last for a hundred years or more, and everyone he mentioned can.

JD Lavallee of Henniker, New Hampshire, loves blues spruce: “In winter I just loved the way the snow was trapped in their branches and made beautiful white pillows. And light snow just adds a nice dusting of their needles. ”

Tom Bacon of Hanover, New Hampshire wrote via email, “I love the majesty of the hemlocks in general, but the way they hold the snow is beautiful in winter and just breathtaking compared to other evergreens.”

As for me? My favorite is the hybrid Merrill magnolia, which I planted a long time ago as a model tree in the back of the house. I love the smooth gray bark and fuzzy buds that look like pussy willows on steroids. These buds remind me that no matter how cold the weather is now, spring is coming. Of the native trees, I love the hornbeam (Ostrya virginiana) in winter. The bare branches are fine and delicate with tiny buds. The side branching patterns are so richly decorated and beautiful that I hung one from the ceiling above my computer.

One final perspective came from my friend Alicia Jenks of Weathersfield, Vermont. She noticed that American beeches create a nice rustle on windy winter days. The young trees keep their leaves until May and provide a calm symphony in winter. And pine trees make such a calming song even on windy days. So go outside to listen to the trees. Take care, and your trees may surprise and delight you.

Henry Homeyer’s blog appears twice a week on Write to him at PO Box 364, Cornish Flat, NH 03746. Please include a self-addressed, stamped envelope if you would like a reply by mail. Or send an email to