Winter Joy: Plants with Interesting Forms

Landscapes and the outdoors get a bad rap for only being relevant in nice weather seasons. One of the things studying landscape architecture got me excited about was the contribution the outdoors make even during the winter, when it might be too cold to soak up the sun and the plants aren’t going through the ‘fireworks’ phase of blooming or changing color.

I collect these moments of ‘seasonality’ both internally—they’re part of that feeling of the simple fellowship between me and other forms of life—and through photographs and drawings. They’re useful additions to a landscape architect’s’ toolkit.’

I was recently cutting through Harvard’s campus and came across the planting in the Science Center Plaza. The plaza was recently renovated by Stoss, whose principal, Chris Reed, shaped my thinking when I learned under him in grad school. While I think the larger project has some issues in terms of proportions and the relationship between the vertical and the horizontal, I think these planting beds are exquisite in the winter. I love how winter reveals the arresting ‘spindliness’ of the sumac trunks and they mix interestingly with the young and endearingly awkward gingko trees. I love the trunks of both of these species, grey bones jutting up from the earth against the grey of the science center. There’s a level of visual density at eye-level and slightly above that you don’t often get since so many urban landscapes feature short grass or shrubs and trees paired with trees with canopies above eye level.

I’ve been thinking about using sumac for a very small garden I’m designing. I’m excited about its formal possibilities.

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