w. ‘Winter Gold’
The official start of winter is only a few weeks away. Willowwood is entering a quieter season, but there are still highlights in the gardens and surrounding landscape to notice and enjoy on your next visit.
The arboretum’s subtle, early winter color palette is greatly enlivened by its many winterberries (Ilex verticillata), some of which greet you from along the Willow Path as you approach the parking lot. In autumn, these deciduous hollies produce masses of showy, bright red fruit on otherwise bare stems. The cultivar ‘Red Sprite’ sings out from the far corner of the Cottage Garden, where its fruit contrasts nicely with the deep green of the southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) leaves above it. Don’t miss ‘Winter Gold’, (photo at right) either, in the Winter Garden between the main parking lot and the alfalfa field. This selection is covered in fiery coral-hued fruit.
M. hupenhensis fruit
Another woody plant sporting lovely fruit this time of year is the tea crabapple (Malus hupehensis). Its small, glossy pome-fruits (photo left) look like miniature sour cherries, and range in color from deep red to wine red. A number of these trees punctuate the Bee Meadow.
If you continue to the far end of the Bee Meadow and cross Blackburn Brook, be sure to stop and have a look at the stewartia collection on the opposite side of the bridge on the left. Stewartia monadelpha and Stewartia malacodendron both have gorgeous mottled bark in shades of copper, grey and pink that really stands out in winter. Perhaps you will even catch a glimpse of a Red-tailed Hawk perched in the branches overhead (photo below at right).
The meadows along the main drive are also excellent places to spot hawks and other wildlife and simply go for a wander. Their winter tapestry of subtle colors and textures looks especially magical in the slanted light of early morning and late afternoon.
If you need a place to warm up after a walk outside, stop in the Conservatory, which is packed with tender plants that are sheltering from the colder weather. The large, bold flowers of the South African blood lily (Haemanthus albiflos) are just opening now (photo below), and the camellia (Camellia japonica ‘Berenice Boddy’) is covered in pink blossoms.