When you are in the same home long enough, you mark the change of seasons with the plants in your yard. My neighbors Jack and Meredith have some specimen plants of which they are quite proud. In Spring I know that Jack will call my attention to his weeping cherry, which towers over the house, and a huge rhododendron, which, when it blooms in spring, has several hundred trusses of flowers. (I know Jack could tell you exactly how many, as he counts them every year.)
Fall brings the white-flowered, fall-blooming camellias. He always cuts branches of blooms and offers them to people in the neighborhood as cut flowers.
And winter is the time to admire a huge American Holly that is in the center of their back yard. The back is on a steep slope, and they have picture windows facing the yard. They are really just a couple of dozen feet back from the tree, and it’s beautiful with its rich green leaves and its red berries when the snow comes. They can gaze out at the tree and watch the squirrels and birds that visit.
The real treat is that point in the winter when the birds sense that the berries are ready to eat. He called me to come over last week, and we watched as flocks of robins gorged on the berries. There were dozens, and they flew in and out of the tree all afternoon. Whether they are migrating flocks heading south or north, or resident birds that venture into the city on occasion, I know not. I just know that for a period of several days, the holly is full of birds, until they strip the tree bare and move on.
At Behnke’s in Beltsville we had some ‘Winter King’ Hawthornes planted along the street for many years. They get a small orange berry, and the tree is very showy in the winter when the leaves have fallen. We would watch in late winter/early spring and one day each year, the trees would be full of cedar waxwings. Living in the inner ‘burbs, this is not a bird I see very often, and it was always the high point of the day.
Think about planting some “living bird feeders” on your own property. They’re great entertainment, and they’re good for the birds. Miri Talabac, our woody plant buyer, has some suggestions in an accompanying article. At some point you too will have a “conversation plant” that reminds you that another season is upon us.
by Larry Hurley, Behnke horticulturist