Welcome to my zone 9a habitat garden near Houston, Texas.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Trees in mid-winter

(From the archives.)

"I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree," the poet Joyce Kilmer wrote just before he went off to serve in World War I, where his life ended. His poem lives on, and no one has ever better described the mystical hold of trees on the human psyche.

At all seasons of the year, trees have a kind of beauty and poetry and majesty of their own. In mid-winter, as at every season, they are the anchors of the garden.

Live oaks, of course, are much the same at all seasons. They never get fully undressed, although they do shed their leaves in spring as new leaves are being produced. In winter, their leaves offer shelter and sanctuary for birds who need a safe haven from predators or from the weather.

The same can be said of the magnolia trees, a favorite roosting place for many birds in winter.

The bottle tree never loses its leaves either - but I haven't noticed any birds roosting here.

The sycamore hangs on to a few of its leaves until they are finally displaced by new leaves in the spring. Every passing breeze brings a shower of sycamore seeds cascading down from the plentiful seed balls. These seeds are favorite winter foods of many birds including the goldfinches who spend hours each day picking them out.

The old apple tree, too, keeps a few of its leaves even as it prepares to open its swelling buds to the bees in late winter.

The corkscrew willow gives it all up, every leaf, and stands naked against the winter sky and the background of the neighbor's pine trees that tower over everything. The twisted limbs and twigs of the willow give some extra interest to the winter garden. Last summer, I learned that its leaves are hosts to some species of butterflies and moths. I knew there was a reason why I liked it.

This old crape myrtle was planted many years ago by birds, and it still feeds birds in winter with its seeds.

The upright limbs of the Shumard red oak seem to be lifted to the sky in praise and exultation.

None of these trees is old, as trees go. Except for the magnolia and the crape myrtle, we planted them all, but all of them, except for the willow, are now more than twenty years old. They have stood in our yard through drought and flood, heat and cold, and hurricane winds and they have been undaunted. Their leaves have shaken with our laughter, and in times of sadness, they have given me strength and consolation. They've always been there for me to lean on. They are friends to me.

I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as my trees.


  1. I envy your ability to have live oaks. They remind me of my trips to Natchez and Savannah. I am blessed with many native cedars on my property. They are a wonderful spot of green for me and shelter for my birds too. I have their feeders attached to the trunks. Next on my list to buy is the river birch with the peeling bark..I think it's cool.

  2. Live oaks are sort of the iconic tree of our area, Jennifer, because they stand up to drought or to hurricanes. I lost my one native red cedar to Hurricane Ike a couple of years ago and it was a big loss because the birds loved it so. Birches are great trees, too, attractive at all times of the year.

  3. Great post. Smiles for the bottle tree.

    I wish birds could plant a crepe myrtle in my yard...but it takes a pickax to penetrate our top layer...

    Can you replant a red cedar? Incidentally, you are the only other person I know who thinks having a bit of cedar on the property is a good thing.

  4. The cedar was special to me because I had dug it from near my parents' home in Mississippi and planted it in my backyard where it had thrived. Cedars are really underrated, I think, Kathleen. They are especially useful for a habitat gardener like myself because birds love them. They offer both food and shelter, a hard combination to beat when it comes to birds.

  5. i am an unabashed tree hugger. crepe murtles are so pretty, with those pink blooms and amazing trunks! loved your post!

  6. Thanks, LG. Crape myrtles are overused in our area, but there is a reason for that - they are a cast iron cinch to grow and do well in our climate. Besides, they are beautiful, and if their owners can restrain themselves from cutting the seed heads off, the finches will feast off them all winter.