Bark is Art
by SCMG Sue Ridgeway
During the cold, and often gray, days of winter, when delightful floral displays are only fond memories, there is beauty and substance of character to be found: the allure of the neglected and the gnarled.
The nakededness of winter reveals the textures of dry, bent grasses, and woody barks mirroring the craggy landscapes of the rugged earth: tormented, twisted, peeling. This is also the time of warm earth colors: ochres, umbers, cinnamons, slates and siennas.
Many of our Sonoma County gardens would benefit by the addition of more winter interest. One step towards achieving this goal is to add trees and shrubs with interesting trunks and attractive, eye catching bark. As examples, consider the following five plants; all provide a four-season return on your garden investment.
Acer griseum - Paperbark Maple
In her article Bark Is Beautiful, SCMG Sara Malone advises that the bark of A. griseum is a “standout.”
Lagerstroemia - Crape Myrtle
Members of the genus Lagerstroemia are best know for their colorful, crinkley,
Crape myrtle species are woody; most are small to medium, multi-trunked trees or shrubs. Drought and heat tolerant when established, they also tolerate moist soils. Almost all Lagerstroemia have trunks and branches with a mottled appearance caused by bark that sheds throughout the year.
Some species are especially appreciated for the beauty of this exfoliating bark. The old, gray or light brown bark, peeling off attractively, reveals a smooth, polished, cinnamon or pinkish inner bark. This adds beautiful, giraffe-like color patterns that enhance winter garden interest.
Varieties of Lagerstroemia indica are the most widely grown species in the
For more information, please read SCMG Sara Malone’s article on Lagerstroemia.
Hydrangea quercifolia – Oakleaf Hydrangea
During fall and winter, persistent bronze-purple, mahogany and crimson leaves, dried flower heads, and thin flakes of shredding and peeling, cinnamon-orange bark present a surrealistic collage, making this a gorgeous garden addition and a welcome treat for aficionados of nature’s art.
Stewartia pseudocamellia (Japanese) – Stewartia koreana (Korean)
In summer, Stewartia display camellia-like white flowers and the bronze leaves of spring turn dark green. Fall foliage turns to shades of red, orange and purple; however, the peeling bark is always an inspiring focal point.
For larger gardens, S. monadelpha is taller, up to 25 feet, but it shares the fascinating, peeling bark.
Acer buergerianum - Trident Maple
In nature, Acer buergerianum are slow-growing, spreading trees, and in the United States, this Chinese native is an underutilized ornamental and landscape tree. It prefers full sun and moist well drained soil. Because it provides shade, produces few seeds, and its roots don’t damage pavement, it is an excellent patio or street tree.
Looking like an exhibit of some wild, whimsical whittler, the dark, coarse bark of A. buegerianuam chips, peels, and curls, highlighting new, light sapwood in a winter garden gallery.
So, have we been “barking up” the right trees? I think so! Flowers and foliage will fade and fall, but the colors and textures of bark are perpetual, garden pleasures.
A few other interestingly barked trees: