Woof woof (OK, bark, bark)

My garden’s gone to sleep now, or so I think. And then I take a quick walk round, trying not to get blown over (the sea looks amazing), and find something promising, like the Leucojum vernum not just showing, but being about 10cm tall. Spring snowflake? Mine are winter snowflakes, generally. And there are also a couple of misguided crocuses – not autumn crocuses, the normal spring ones – which have come up in the meadow. I have a seasonally confused garden.

The one advantage of this time of year, though, is that you can really focus on the subtleties. And now is the time for bark to come into its own:

rowan and granite

As here, with the bark of the old rowan tree echoing the granite of the house.

The rowan grows above one of the garden’s retaining walls and, despite its size and age, hasn’t done it any significant damage. I guess it’s living up to its reputation as a protector of the home but just in case it isn’t, someone has driven an iron horseshoe into the bottom of the wall, most likely at the time it was built or shortly after (probably before 1837 – the maps show the walls in existence then). Well, there’s no harm overdoing it when it comes to protective magic…

Birches are also protective, and I’ve got three of those (where were they when I fell over, eh?). Now they really are the queens of the bark world here. I’m in love with the two white birches, particularly the slender one. It is almost pure white,

birch 1

and gleams in the half-light of an evening (the leaves are gone now, btw).

I am particularly attracted by the contrast between the white trunk and the places where branches, er, branch off:


I have another birch, the baby, whose trunk is the glowing russet colour. Unfortunately it was in a difficult frame of mind and wouldn’t let itself be photographed – it was moving too much in the wind, that is.

The big birch was also shifting about, so this was taken on a better day:

white trunk

I tend to think of this tree as having less-startling bark than its companion, but I’m wrong; it’s just that it is bigger and the bark has been under more stress. Higher up, it’s fab. I clearly need a cherry-picker to get the best possible shots without cricking my neck even more.

This winter, we are going to take some of the lower branches off the birches. I was inspired by a garden I visited in the spring (and by P’s complains about nearly being garrotted; the mess would be dreadful if that were to happen, after all). While this will make all sorts of things easier, it will also mean an end to effects like this,

white together

with the ground below the birches completely shaded. I am hoping, though, that the foxgloves comes back, and though I don’t normally interfere with the meadow, we will be shifting some baby foxgloves into it soon.

But it’s not just rowan and birch. The Western Red Cedar has glorious bark, and it makes good kindling too (I’m not ripping it brutally away, it comes from the one we took down in 2012).

cedar and woodpile

and provides a good contrast with the smooth grey-green of the ash logs which form the bulk of my log pile; we’re constantly messing with the ashes which grow like giant weeds. The local cats really appreciate the cedar as a scratching post (who knows why cats do anything) and I really appreciate it for the shelter it gives the woodpile. And because it’s lovely, she added defensively…

But I keep coming back to the birches, and that’s not surprising. White isn’t always white:

pink tree

Sometimes it’s pink. With orangey bits. And hints of purple.


18 Comments Add yours

  1. You’ve a lovely selection of trees – it’s hard to beat those trunks of the birch for effect isn’t it?

    1. kate says:

      They are pretty, and I’ve started looking more closely at other bark too. But the birches are indeed hard to beat… impossible, even (though I’m very fond of eucalyptus too, but I haven’t got one)…

  2. I have birch envy. Truly beautiful trees. I miss my trio of jaqumontii, they were the stars of the winter garden. Lopping off a few of the lower branches is a good thing though, more trunk to stroke. Or maybe that’s just me… As for the sea, it was stupendous round here the road at the bottom by the beach was completely under water and now has half the beech on it, the waves were breaking over the harbour wall and reached spectacular heights.

    1. kate says:

      They are lovely, and they’re my additions to the garden along with a ginkgo and a couple of extra fruit trees. They’ve grown so quickly!

      Barmouth was wild but nothing like that. Phew!

  3. Pauline says:

    Fantastic bark, they really do take over when the colourful leaves all blow away. Birches are wonderful for their pure white bark and stand out in the winter garden. As well as the birches we have a Prunus serrula which has bark like polished mahogany, I can’t resist stroking it when I pass on the way to the greenhouse.

    1. kate says:

      There’s an amazing stand of them at Anglesey Abbey which I’d like to see in the flesh (as it were) – very envious of that effect. Mind you, they do wash down their beeches. Life is tooooo short… or maybe I should give it a try?

  4. Christina says:

    I love the white trunks of birches, the best bark I have is on the Melia.
    Lots of beautiful images today thank you

    1. kate says:

      Thank you… I love Melia leaves – not a chance in hell of getting one going here.

      It’s quite a challenge in winter, finding good images (85 shots of mud, most blurry due to low light levels, do not cut it). Happily the trees don’t move about much once the leaves are off!

  5. Cathy says:

    Yes, it’s so easy to overlook the bark when the trees are covered in leaves – and although the silver birches are pretty the white birch bark is stunning – I meant to get those for my trio in the woodland edge border but for some reason got silver birch instead… never mind. Lovely light effects in the last picture 🙂 ps pleased to hear your home is well protected….do the rowan and horseshoe protect you from dragons too?

    1. kate says:

      Silvers are pretty too. I thought I was getting a golden-barked birch – now that would have been a good addition. Regrettably, I really don’t think there’s any room now. Rats.

      Rowan/horseshoe combo no good whatsoever with dragons. Only thing that works with them is keeping their cat flap closed (true nature of mystery digging dragon was finally revealed).

  6. wellywoman says:

    I miss my birch. We had one in the garden but it got too big. The previous owners had planted it too close to the house and it had to go. It was a sad day. I miss it most at this time of year. It’s bark used to glisten in the low winter light. *sighs* one day I’ll have another birch and a rowan … and a Prunus serrula and an Acer griseum. 🙂

    1. kate says:

      That is tragic – I dread having to do something like that, even to my ashes. I thought I’d lost one several years ago, but it was only partial (fortunately the part hanging over the wildy bit next door). We took the branch off, tried up the rest of the tree and it thrived.

      I must admit that I’m not sure about the acer – great leaves, but I think I’d want to spread hand cream – bark cream? trunk cream? – on the bark. The Prunus – oh yes, I want one too!

  7. Anna says:

    Trees really come into their own at this time of year both their shapes and individual characteristics. You’ve got some beauties there Kate to protect, gaze upon or just stroke 🙂

    1. kate says:

      I get very fierce about the trees – I accept that they need management, of course, but the prospect of taking one of them down upsets me. In a sane world I’d have had my very old cherry out about 8 years ago, but it hangs on and so do I. I’ll go and give it a stroke the moment it stops raining…

  8. hoehoegrow says:

    It’s funny isn’t it, gardeners hate winter but it really does make you look at your garden in more detail. Once the showstoppers are all sleeping, you notice the beauty of the supporting framework. I was looking at Lichen on branches today, and thinking that I have never really looked at it closely before. Mind you … give me the showstoppers any day !!
    Lovely bark, particularly the birch. Prunus Serrula is one of my favourites too !

    1. kate says:

      Bad Kate for replying so slowly – you are so right about the framework suddenly appearing. I’ve just been looking at the lichen on my birches – gorgeous!

  9. Chloris says:

    That is the great thing about winter, lovely bark. I love your trees Do you scrub your birches? I do sometimes when no one is around. My family find it eccentric so I do it secretly.


    1. kate says:

      Another apology for being late (my excuse is dentistry – ouch). I mentioned birch scrubbing to P and he looked at me as though I’d lost my mind. But I’m going to have to give it a try…

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