(This article was originally published on February 15, 2010. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)
Several years ago, I took a class in horticulture put together by a former Cornell Cooperative Extension educator and hosted by the local Audubon Society. One afternoon, he introduced a landscape architect who was there to impart his wisdom to us. I was not impressed, first because of his condescension and second because of his lack of imagination, but I did take away one thing: that tree shadows on snow are thought of as calligraphy. Being a poet and a photographer, I liked the images that brought forth and have spent a lot of time thinking about it ever since.
Our yard has a lot of trees, some planted by the former owners, some planted by birds and squirrels and allowed to grow, and some planted by us.
The most notable plantation by the former owners is a large group of evergreens directly south of the house. The trees, planted in the mid 1950s, are spaced about 6 feet apart and are 40 to 50 feet tall. Having been planted so closely, there are no longer any living limbs under 10 feet. Apparently, the idea was to hang a hammock in the shade of the trees, but there has never been a hammock hung. The trees first grew too thickly and then were too straggly. Their contribution to the calligraphy of winter shadows is a huge block that shades the south side of the house when we most need the sun.
The wildlife landscape contribution consists of several ash trees and some butternut trees. Two of the ash trees are to the east of the house and have grown into good sized shade trees. They provide lovely shade during the summer and write wonderful stories on the snow in winter that stretch across the whole arc of the side lawn through the season, along with the lower case scribbles of forsythia and roses.
The trees we have planted are still small, and some on the north side of the house are totally in shade through the winter and write no stories, while others spell out fragments of stories that grow longer with the years.
This winter we are watching the shadows of our stone circle play with snow and interact with the trees shadows. We built the circle last summer, placing four stones at the cardinal points of North, South, East and West, the tallest being North, and four more stones at the intermediate points between. They have changed the way the snow drifts in the side yard, and the nuances of shadow in the snow. Today, they have completely changed the drifts again, with a wind that has shifted twice. They speak of things the trees only whisper about and make the snow move around them
When you are planning your gardens, start now--when the trees (in the Northern hemisphere) are bare and the shadows stretch out across the yard. Think about the way they will interact with your house. Watch the way the snow, if you are lucky enough to have snow, plays in your yard and consider how new plantings or hardscape will change it. Pay attention to the nuances of the scribbles made by seed stalks and the bushes. Make your plans for a garden that will play with all of the seasons, and learn to read the old stories, new each day.
All photos property of Kathleen M. Tenpas and used with permission