Through the Seasons at the Morton Arboretum: Then and Now (December)
“Attention in December is focused primarily on Evergreens, both broad and needle leaved, and on those trees and shrubs with tenacious foliage.”
Rounding out this year, December has a number of horticultural offerings called out by my grandfather (in the 1942 “Arboretum Through the Seasons” publication for the Chicago flower show and reprinted in Arboretum Bulletins of Popular Information) that are still worth visiting the Arboretum to see. I’d guess that outside of Illumination, a majority of people wouldn’t think winter in Illinois is a prime opportunity to spend time outside exploring collections of trees, but I’d argue they’re very wrong!
The coniferous (cone bearing) evergreens are widely distributed throughout the Arboretum, with plantings concentrated on Pine, Hemlock, and Spruce Hills on the west side and in the Thornhill grounds. The major plantings on the east side are in the Administration Building grounds, along the extension of the Hedge Garden axis where the horticultural variations are segregated.
Earlier in the month, I paid a visit to the extensive variety of evergreens he lauded:
Traipsing along the Conifer Walk, the pine smell is phenomenal. Walking through this part of the Arboretum’s seasonal Illumination light show during the day, it's easy to appreciate the form and unique needles of each conifer—however awkward they look surrounded by cables and fencing and dormant lights in the bright of day.
The smell reminds me why I’m there—the trees. Even sans lights, they illuminate every sense as you walk amongst them. It’s nice to appreciate the intricacies of each tree in the light, studying their unique shape, cones, and needles.
Over on the west side, by Thornhill, I spotted some cute little Eastern Hemlocks growing next to the path, comparably tiny next to their neighbors:
And in the fragrance garden on the west side and near the library on the east, Winter Honeysuckle was, just as the Honeysuckles my grandpa had mentioned, still exhibiting a vibrant green color
In the vicinity of the Administration Building the rounded foliage of the Fragrant Honeysuckle stand out above everything else, retaining as it does its rich greenness until after the first of the year. The Japanese Honeysuckle reacts similarly.
He also mentions the lingering leaves of some deciduous trees:
The deciduous materials whose leaves cling late to the branches likewise do their part in enlivening the December landscape. Through the woods we can pick out seedling Ironwoods, Blue Beech, White and Northern Pin Oaks by this characteristic, and in man made plantings distinguish Beech, Swamp White and Shingle Oaks.
There were a number of trees whose long-turned leaves were still hanging on, making for a colorful contrast to the surrounding evergreens.
Despite unique bark being a hallmark of the season that my grandpa chose to highlight for November, the interest of various colors and textures of bark persist throughout winter. I happened to see a particularly striking example on the path around Meadow Lake, shortly after passing the glass pane windows of the Ginkgo Room (and at the very beginning of the Illumination route):
Although the year is ending, I started Through the Seasons at the Morton Arboretum: Then and Now late into spring of last year, so there are still a few months to go! But for now, I hope you’re able to spend some time sitting with the beauty of trees this season.
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