By Greg Lecker
Even if one cannot walk around the grounds of the Arboretum or complete the entire Three Mile Drive on foot, I encourage visitors to at least stroll for a few minutes around the wonderful gardens behind the Snyder Building. Because of the exquisite landscape design and heavy planting of evergreens, this garden is almost as satisfying in the winter as it is during the growing season. An undulating blanket of snow has been tucked in around the many dwarf evergreens and the rocks that flank the water feature. A dusting of snow accentuates the joints between the stone pavers through which one imagines flowing water in a few months.
The sword-like foliage of Yucca poking up through miniature moguls of snow reminds me of a recent trip I completed. Returning from a week of landscape painting in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona, what impresses me most is that while many desert plants appear “out to get one” with a varied array of spikes, bristles, and barbs; the bark, leaves, and dried seed heads of Minnesota plants and trees are soft to the touch and to the eyes. Here there are fuzzy magnolia buds and fluffy grass seed heads.
Just after I leave the display gardens, I happen to study the branches of a Japanese tree dogwood in appreciation of its interesting seed heads. I notice a paper wasp nest attached to its boughs. I understand that most of its inhabitants have died with the coming winter; and the new queens have sought a protected lodging place until spring.
Rust-colored Maidenhair Fern foliage stands out lace-like against the snowy blanket lying in the dark woodland.
Walking a bit farther through the Sugarbush woodland, I first notice the blue-white tubing of the maple syrup collecting operation. Then, I notice the relatively bright green lichen growing amidst the deeply furrowed bark of a Sugar Maple.
Compared with the subtle gray and yellow greens and rocky pink soil of the Sonoran Desert, here in the north, there is a clear distinction between ground plane and vertical surfaces here in the snow carpeted north. The woodland is the darkest value and the prairie a dark middle value; the ground is clearly a light value, sometimes even lighter than the sky. The subtle greens of the desert are matched by the nuances of the browns of the wintry north.
The grounds appear more quiet than usual. I see few human visitors and even fewer animals. Passing through the visitor center on my return trip to the parking lot, I notice a group of Gray Squirrels snacking under the bird feeders outside the Oswald Dining Room.
Greg Lecker is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer.