The Hoarfrost

hoarfrost 009Hoarfrost is simply frozen dew. Though this form has none of the romance of a dewy June morning, it is lovely. If we are going to get hoarfrost, it usually appears in January, after a rain.  We have had intermittent rain for several days, with freezing temperatures overnight; this morning was 24 degrees.  As a result, everything was coated in fine white ice crystals barely visible in the fog.  This made for a beautiful January morning. 

hoarfrost 012The frost on these forsythia branches was very subtle-just enough to greatly soften their appearance.  Deciduous shrubs in winter have a quiet beauty all their own.  The winter is one of the best times to evaluate shrubs for your garden; their winter appearance should be as important a factor in your selection as their summer dress.  The frost in particular makes their shape and habit clear.    

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If I had property of size, I might plant honeysuckle. They have a fairly uninteresting summer presence, but their dense thicket of dark brown stems are very attractive from a distance in the winter.  Growing robustly to 10-15 feet tall, they can screen a poor view as well or better than an evergreen.  They only need room, and lots of it.  Large shrubs that have been pruned poorly, or pruned to fit a small space tell that story in the winter.

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These spirea in my neighborhood are never pruned at the right time of year. This person invariably prunes them only a few weeks before they flower, and never, as he should, right after they finish flowering. The benefit to me-the long and lacy spent flower stems are lovely in the winter.  Luckily he does no pruning on his junipers; they have a naturally loose and pleasing shape.  The frosty tips reveal the shape clearly; if you like the winter shape of any tree or shrub, you are doing something right. 

hoarfrost 019Trees can be a nuisance to prune, as most of the activity is a long way from the ground.  But the winter silhouette will make clear where a branch could be cleaned up, or headed back, in a good and beautiful way.  The stub pruned branch in the middle of this picture-I would take it all the back to the big branch.  Whatever shape you are trying to encourage makes itself known now.

ice white 027The hoarfrost sticks to ice as well as any other surface. A single fall leaf frozen in the ice may be a melancholy reminder of the dormant garden, but the colors, textures and shapes here are quite beautiful.

hoarfrost 002Every bark has its own brown. The crabapples are grey and black, the forsythias a warm yellow brown.  Choosing shrubs and trees for their bark has its winter rewards.  Now is the perfect time to look at bark; is a dominant feature of the winter landscape. With every bit as much variation as leaves or flowers, there is actually a lot to see.

hoarfrost 037The field next door was breathtaking this morning.  The white frost, the blue white snow, and the dark rock may lack the romance of May, but there is this alternate garden universe which is worth seeing.  Though not in active grown, woody plants, and the remains of perennial plants have a lot to say, even in the winter. 

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The hoarfrost variegation on the boxwood had disappeared by 9 am.  I am glad I did not miss it.

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