A thought on the Winter value of Plants
Updated: Dec 19, 2019
Typically speaking, I’m not a massive fan of winter! A sweeping statement and true in the main, though there are several wintry things that I appreciate or enjoy.
I love a number of winter flowering or interesting plants, Cornus, Daphne, Galanthus and Helleborus to name just a few. I love a cold, crisp misty morning with a piercing, brilliant sun rising over a field. I love the crunch of fallen leaves under foot (perhaps more autumnal than winters). I’m a huge fan of Brussels Sprouts; a proper winter veg! I enjoy, if only for a short while, fresh snow. I love Christmas and my birthday in January, but beyond that, winter, particularly in the UK is often an arduous drudge of mostly mild, very wet weather from October through to February. Trench foot rather than chilblains.
All too often, we are deprived of anything even remotely like the Christmas card scenes of snowy landscapes. Similarly, we rarely have crisp leaves on which to tread, replaced as they commonly are by slimy and slippery decaying foliage.
One element of winter though, which always delivers on interest and represents a hallmark to the season is the impression of silhouette on the structure of trees against the setting low winter’s sun. Even when the weather is relatively overcast, the sinuous form of trees against the sky, bereft as they are of leaves is both a horticultural and aesthetic delight.
It is during the winter, in silhouette where deciduous trees truly reveal their most hidden beauty and an extra dimension of interest is added to plants better known for other qualities, like grass flower-heads in Cortaderia richardii below.
Reminiscent of the structure of veins in a body (pictured bottom to protect the squeamish), as anyone lucky enough to have attended the Body Worlds exhibitions of Professor Gunther von Hagens (which I have, I’m pleased to say) can attest. The very concept of the transportation of blood in humans, just as sap in trees in the ever descending thicknesses of trunk, to branch, to twig, can be viewed in its entirety at this time. Just as one bleeds when cut, the consequence of respiration and transpiration can be witnessed on colder mornings in early autumn when trees breathe out a fine mist from their foliage.
The silhouette is an underrated and indeed rarely considered quality in plants, but during a UK winter it can be their star turn.
So next time you are out and about don’t forget to look up.
Warning: If squeamish, best go no further.
PHOTO: Acid-corrosion cast of the arteries of the Adult Human hand and forearm. Gunther von Hagens.