Nature Notes

Our all-weather friend, the Arboretum

Rain or shine, snow or sleet, this special place — a community — reaches out daily with open arms.

By Lee Anne Laskey

Don’t let the weather fool you lately. Make an Arboretum date for yourself and head this way. Indoors and out, there is beauty, inspiration and community waiting for you. 

I pull out for my visit this time, a bit hesitant, honestly, since the light rain was ongoing, some walkways were too icy and the sun was not about to make a friendly appearance. Should I just skip and find another free window of time?  We all assume there will be those open windows in our weeks, but since I can’t count on that, I keep my plan and, oh, I’m so happy I did.

I bundle up, listening to the soft rain and stroll some safe paths for a while, simply listening to nearby bird chatter and admiring the snapshots of color against the soothing gray landscape. It takes a moment, doesn’t it, to adjust to a so-called gloomy-weather day?

After I tweaked expectations, details came alive and nature nurtured me in brand new ways. A bonfire of warmth from ‘Flame’ willow’s vibrant branches line a path by the Cloistered Herb Garden. P.J.M. rhododendron’s lush winter purple-green colored leaves catch my eye just past the Japanese Garden. This hybrid, broadleaf evergreen shrub does very well in cold climates and makes a valuable addition to a winter garden.  

I look up and admire the tiny raindrops clinging to the scarlet berries of a ‘Wentworth’ American cranberry bush. These beautiful, beneficial berries stick around from late summer to late winter on this stunning native shrub that attracts birds, not deer. A white fir around the corner with its silvery, blue-green needles seems a perfect place to stand to get out of the passing wind. This is a hardy tree and grows in a wide range of soils.

I love the symbolism of fir trees that carries the message of hope, while encouraging patience. The 2- or 3-inch-long needles are known to be “flat, friendly and flexible.” No wonder the raindrops are also choosing to rest here too. 

Before heading indoors, I take a tropical break in the Keating Greenhouse connected to the Home Demonstration Garden where succulents are thriving. What a cozy spot to recharge! This greenhouse demonstrates a glass house scaled for a backyard. It is perfect for starting vegetables and wintering tender patio pots, too. 

I warm up in the cafe with a cup of tea and lots of birdwatching at one of the favorite tables by the windows. A family with small children press their noses on the glass, eagerly chattering about the adventurous squirrel on the feeder; the smallest child decides it must be the “Grandma” squirrel. I’ll take that as a compliment to all us grandmothers. They are giddy about the downy woodpecker, nuthatches, showy cardinals and chickadees gathering. As the sweet family packs up, the mother looks over and says this is their favorite winter-day tradition.

A member named Joe, patiently waiting for his daughter to finish her walk, points out the famous snowmen he built on the hill behind the bird party. They even have been named. His smile is contagious as he explains the joy it brings him to create them for everyone.  He gives me a tip to stop and smell the Ponderosa lemon tree’s recent bloom in the conservatory before exploring art. 

There is an excitement and sense of community here every time I visit, even on more quiet days. I leave the cozy table, surrounded by the constant, genuine laughter from the ladies group nearby who have decided to meet here more often. 

Spring green growth is bursting through bulbs along the Snyder building windows, reminding me of this joyful process I can do at home. I found the bloom and the subtle scent stays with me as I stroll through the ramp way. 

“Capturing Colors,” the fifth-annual Flora & Fauna Illustrata exhibition is on display in the Skywway Gallery. The cafe area is highlighting the “Art Flies Free” exhibit until Feb. 12, featuring Olivia Hoppe and Pat Owen. 

Down in the Reedy Gallery, I enjoyed viewing the talent of four regional Indigenous artists in the exhibit, “Visions from the Land: Native Interpretations.” These pieces, in a variety of forms from collage, relief print, digital photography and blown ink and gesso, are displayed until March 26. 

I had left home a little hesitant and grumbly about the weather, which I won’t let happen again. Rain or shine, snow or sleet, the Arboretum is an all-weather friend to us all, reaching out daily with open arms. The beauty of this welcoming community is just waiting for you to join in. Take advantage of your next open window of time this week and enjoy all the benefits a visit here will bring to you. 

 As John Burroughs said so wisely: “He who marvels at the beauty of the world in summer will find equal cause for wonder and admiration in winter.”  

See you soon!

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