Mid-winter always seems like such a quiet time in nature and our gardens. Excepting the evergreens, most views are dominated by the forms, shapes and outlines of bare-branched trees and shrubs against the sky, snow or ground.

Mid-winter always seems like such a quiet time in nature and our gardens. Excepting the evergreens, most views are dominated by the forms, shapes and outlines of bare-branched trees and shrubs against the sky, snow or ground.


But despite their appearance, these dormant trees and shrubs are quietly readying for the time when growth can begin anew.


Under the frozen ground, root activity continues to maintain the moisture levels necessary for the plant to survive. And within each plant the promise of new growth is hidden from view for the untrained eye - the dormant buds on every stem, prepared to emerge, begin the new cycle of life as winter turns to spring.


The dictionary defines a winter bud as a dormant, undeveloped embryonic shoot at the tip or along a stem, ready to become new growth or a leaf or a flower. Buds of most hardy plants in New England are encased with scales (modified leaf tissue) that protect the delicate growth or flower parts inside from the elements until conditions are right to initiate growth.


Some buds incorporate waxy, gummy or hairy substances to further protect the yet-to-develop shoots inside from drying winds and cold. Lacking this protection, the delicate inner tissues could not tolerate the dehydrating effects of winter sun, drying winds and fluctuating, often subzero temperatures that characterize New England's winter season.


Each flower bud holds the mechanism to help assure perpetuation of the species. As a flower opens and gets pollinated, it produces the seeds that can germinate to become the next generation. Probably because of the greater complexity of the living parts they enclose, the buds which will produce flowers can be large and distinctive on many plants.


Most of the rhododendrons, magnolias, pieris, kalmia and certain viburnums offer particularly attractive flower buds all winter. Dogwood, magnolia, lilac, forsythia and a lot of the broadleaf evergreens also display significantly larger flower buds (compared to their growth buds), adding another dimension of appeal in the winter garden.


I find remarkable that nature enables such delicate and attractive flowers to endure the winter and actually emerge from these buds, given that the conditions mere weeks previous were so punishing. Even now I'm noticing the flowers on witch-hazel (Hamamelis) are starting their sequence of unfurling their flowers on days when temperatures are above freezing, closing them again with the cold. For me this is a clear signal that the wake-up-for-spring cycle is beginning.


It won't be many more weeks until more of these flower buds start to emerge from dormancy and begin anew the much anticipated season of renewal. And I'm certainly ready for that to begin!


R. Wayne Mezitt is the chairman of Weston Nurseries of Hopkinton and a Massachusetts certified horticulturist. He has served as president of the Massachusetts Nursery and Landscape Association, the New England Nursery Association and the American Nursery and Landscape Association, based in Washington, D.C.