Winter in its nakedness, offers us an opportunity to study the architectural forms of trees that comprise our landscape. When designers begin to layout a landscape they usually start with the trees, ornamental or shade trees. Why? In the life cycle of a landscape, trees are the most impactive and influential element. Trees form the walls and canopy of a space and they are long-lived.
Winter offers us qualities of light and shadow that are not around when the sun is at a higher angle in the sky. Light reflects off of bark and branching at a more perpendicular angle this time of year bringing texture to the forefront. Gorgeous crystal sunsets can add a surreal feel to any tree in silhouette. Shadow play on the ground plane is sinewy and lithe as it stretches out across a space. There is sensuality in the winter landscape as the slow dance of contrast between white snow and dark shadow plays out.
The architecture of trees influences people in subtle ways. Think of an allee of trees as it overhangs a driveway, welcoming the visitor with outstretched limbs. Vase-shaped branching arching over the pavement gives us the sense of envelopment and warmth. In the same way, a tree can evoke feelings of sadness or hilarity. How many times have we seen the weeping form of cherries or beech and thought how heavy is the burden that this tree carries? Whether imagined or subliminal, this is a profound shape in any landscape.
On the other hand, can you see and feel the joy and mirth of a vase-shaped tree throwing up its arms in a guttural laugh, beckoning the visitor to stroll beneath it and join the fun. Trees can convey strength and an air of permanency to a space as well. Think about the pictures of the age old Live Oaks of southern plantations. These trees in their massive girth tell stories of endurance and stoicism in each muscular limb. These trees embody the grandeur of the Old South. Their architecture is not only a symbol of horticulture but a symbol of a past culture.
Stripped of the soft elements of leaves and flowers, trees in winter offer a framework from which to view the landscape that is unique. So, as you pass through this wonderful winter landscape, take the time to notice the impact that trees have on your everyday experience. In the depth of winter trees offer the prospect of beauty to come, even as they stave off a harsh wind or savage snowstorm. The architecture of trees is a victual to be savored all year long, but perhaps no other time of the year in such a raw, essential way.