On my visit yesterday to the University of Illinois Arboretum, a thick, rolling overcast blanketed the sky. As I crested the hill between the parking lot and Japan House, I couldn’t believe the dense green that greeted me from across the pond. The grove is in nearly full leaf, hiding any view beyond.
I was disappointed to find that I had missed the bloom of the Japan House tree peonies, but the standard garden peonies (Paeonia lactiflora) in the formal gardens have begun to open as temperatures have risen after a unseasonably cold dip for mid-May.
One of my favorite aspsects of the formal gardens is how color is tucked into corners among larger masses of trees and shrubs grown primarly for their foliage. This peony forms a perfectly-scaled accent between the foreground rocks and shrubs behind.
Despite its common use in gardens in our area, I don’t remember ever being witness to Cotoneaster blooming. While never one of my favorite shrubs, this Contoneaster in flower provided subtle color at the edge of the border.
The peony in bloom sported dark magenta buds opening to rich, pink petals that form a bowl around a buttery yellow center. It was a gorgeous sight against the glossy green foliage and invited my senses closer to breathe in its subtle perfume. If flowers have the power to seduce, peonies are certainly among the sirens.
Closer to the waters edge, another large clump of peonies stood ready to open. Perhaps due to the excess rain we’ve had this spring or some other climate difference, I’ve noticed that peonies throughout town are a bit more leggy than in years past.
At the north entrance gate leading into Japan House, the white blooms of a compact Deutzia float in wonderful contrast to the deep burgundy colors of the Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) and barberry (Berberis) in the background.
The yellow wisps of new growth on the pondside willow (Salix sp.) have been replaced by branches weeping heavily towards the water’s surface. As I framed this young tree, my mind wandered to the future — imagining how this willow might grow into a majestic giant at the water’s edge.
The Viburnum dentatum (Blackhaw Viburnum) nestled in among the hawthorns on the north side of the pond is at the point of bloom where the first signs of fading are evident on close inspection, but invisible from afar.
The trees that two weeks ago I identified as likely being Crataegus crus-galli (Cockspur Hawthorn) now display almost identical flowers to those that bloomed on C. mollis (Downy Hawthorn) two weeks ago.
Shown from inside the grove, the differences between C. crus-galli and C. mollis become even more evident. The trunk of the C. mollis (on right) is deeply furrowed, almost as if several trunks had melded into one early in the tree’s life. C. crus-galli, on the left, has a more singular look to the trunk.
The ovaries of the downy hawthorns that were blooming during my last visit are now swelling into the tree’s fruit. It’s no surprise that Crataegus is a genus in the Rosaceae family when one appreciates how similar these hawthorn fruit compare to the after-bloom hips on a rose.
I’ve been around plants for nearly all of my 40 years, I don’t think I grasped the enormity and speed of change until I started journaling the changing seasons at Japan House Pond. I look at these gardens with both scientific intrigue and spiritual wonder as I witness their journey throughout the year.