Garden News Blog

Woodpeckers, Wintersweet, and More

This time of year in the Discovery Garden, I often wonder where did everybody go? Visitors are a little scarce, and when they are here, they often drift in and out quickly, unsure of what to look for in the bare winter landscape. But take time and look closely, and you’ll discover plenty of fascinating things.

Winter is the time to look for the fine details in nature. With much of their greenery gone, trees and shrubs reveal their architecture. Look up to compare the tall slender shape of the hornbeam trees with the weeping mulberry’s knot of gnarled branches. This week, the wintersweet tree is covered in little perfumed blossoms, the first daffodils have opened, and tiny snowdrop flowers nod along the pathways. Winter is also a great time to touch and compare garden textures. Find the fuzzy magnolia buds, the feathery plumes of the maidenhair grasses, and the leathery Southern magnolia leaves.

As the seasonal flocks of visitors recede, winter wildlife starts to creep back into the heart of the Discovery Garden. The squeals of children exploring the water table are replaced by the sounds of sparrows bustling around the bird feeder and the tap-tap of woodpeckers foraging on the Austrian pines overhead. Looking closely at the bark, where you can find the little holes they’re boring in search of insects. If you watch quietly, you might spot a robin picking red berries off the hollies in the Farm. The moisture from rain and snow supports a surge of decomposers on the woodland log pile—turn one over to find millipedes curled up in the crannies and the zigzags of slime trails left by slugs and snails.

Recently, a mother and her young kids were here exploring, and I sent them on a mission to gather the bounty of fresh cones for the pinecone bin. Trotting after her toddlers, she told me that winter is her favorite season in the Garden, because they have the place almost to themselves. Be sure to come sample the delights of the winter garden yourself, before word gets out.

Ashley Gamell is is a freelance writer and consultant. After a decade on staff at Brooklyn Botanic Garden, she now pens her posts from the Hudson Valley.


  • Julie Fissinger February 16, 2012

    My husband, three children, and I recently took a “winter walk” in the Garden, and it was lovely! Kids weren’t sure it was going to be fun, but the moment we walked through the gates, we were transported from the city environment, and the kids ran through the paths, played in the children’s discovery garden, and had a wonderful time.

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