As the sun is lowering in the sky and days are shorter, I find the light turns almost silvery in winter. The trees have lost their leaves and their interwoven branches are gilded in the sun. We often speak of four-season plants and sometimes it is difficult to articulate to someone why I choose something for winter interest because we often focus on berries or evergreen leaves. I plant for bark and shape more than fruit or flower. The birds will clean out the neighbor's crabapple, but I'll still have its charcoal bark and gnarled limbs to admire outside the study window. The flowers of my beloved China Snow Pekin lilac tree (Syringa pekinensis 'China Snow') are spectacular for three weeks in June. The graceful limbs and peely bark are stunning backlit or dusted in snow. This year, I was able to be pretty ruthless in the pruning and shape it in the directions I want it to go. I'm very pleased with how it is becoming more oriental in architecture. It's growing about two to three feet a year and nicely blocks the neighbor's deck and play fort. The squirrels find it a convenient highway along the fence and a launching point for attempts at the bird feeder. I leave the seeds on because I think they add a nice tawny brown to the winter landscape. Fortunately, the little seedlings are very shallow rooted and easy to pull. If you have a full sun spot with good drainage, Pekin lilac is a terrific small to intermediate sized ornamental tree. The eighty-year-old ones at the Morton Arboretum are somewhere around fifty feet high, so I'm wouldn't plan on this being a small plant. Mine is approaching the twenty foot mark in just a few years.
Isn't that bark gorgeous?
Finally becoming a tree instead of a really big shrub.