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Saugus Gardens in the Winter

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Here’s what’s blooming in town this week to make your walks more enjoyable


By Laura Eisener


This month’s full moon was last night. The January full moon is known by various North American tribes as the wolf moon, Canada goose moon, and freeze up moon as well as other variations that suggest cold weather.

While we certainly see Canada geese (Branta canadensis) in other months, one of the largest flocks I have seen were all congregated on the slope of the Iron Works around noon Tuesday, all facing the river and a small group of ducks swimming off the dock. Gradually the geese took flight and began swimming in the river, too. While very scarce in the 1960’s, the population of these birds has rebounded significantly in recent decades.

The kind of trees that have been the biggest sellers in recent years north of Boston have been arborvitaes. They are the usual choice for anyone wanting a windbreak or a privacy screen and can be found in sizes ranging from two feet tall, which can be easily brought home in your trunk or backseat but will require several years’ worth of patience for them to grow, to over six feet, sometimes even 10 feet, which can give you some instant privacy. There are a few different kinds, although they all have a somewhat similar appearance. Big selling points are that they are fairly cylindrical in form, so don’t take up too much space in the yard, and they provide year-round screening.

For sunny locations where white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) are infrequent, the most popular is a bright green variety of our eastern native arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis ‘Emerald’, also sometimes called ‘Smaragd.’ ‘Smaragd’ can sometimes be spelled with an extra letter a or two and is a 13th century English word meaning emerald, both the gemstone and the color. The word is essentially the same in German. This is a vivid green even in winter, very narrow and can grow to 20 feet tall assuming you don’t have a herd of deer come to eat it. Deer find it very tasty.

An older variety of eastern arborvitae, ‘Dark American’ (Thuja occidentalis ‘Dark American’), is a slightly darker green and a bit wider but has a similar growth. Deer will eat this one as well. If you have shade and/or deer, the ‘Green Giant’ western arborvitae (Thuja plicata ‘Green Giant’) is an excellent choice. Deer don’t seem to like its flavor, and it will grow much better in shade. It grows a bit faster and can reach 40 feet in height. This scares off some potential buyers, who are often looking for a screen that is much shorter – but either species can be pruned to keep the size manageable.

Eastern arborvitae, also known as eastern white cedar, grows wild in much of the Atlantic coastline, but the wild trees vary too much in shape and size to make good privacy screens. The western arborvitae is native to the Pacific coast of North America. These trees belong to the Cypress family (Cupressaceae) along with three others in the same genus (Thuja spp.) that are native to Asia.

In addition to foliage providing nutrition for the deer, arborvitae and other evergreens give shelter from wind and predators to birds, and the seeds offer another food source to small animals and birds. One bird that seems to like this tree especially is the northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis).

Changing temperatures and soft flurries a few days this week have left changing patterns of mirror-like clear ice, zigzag snowdrifts, and spots of open water bright blue under sunny skies on the surface of different parts of Birch Pond on Walnut Street and other ponds this week. Reflections altered the colors as the days progressed from morning to afternoon, and as temperatures fluctuated the frozen areas expanded and contracted. Even the brackish parts of the Saugus River became partially frozen on the weekend, and as the tides rose and fell shards of ice broke and became like glass sculptures on the riverbanks.


  Editor’s Note: Laura Eisener is a landscape design consultant who helps homeowners with landscape design, plant selection and placement of trees and shrubs, as well as perennials. She is a member of the Saugus Garden Club and offered to write a series of articles about “what’s blooming in town” shortly after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. She was inspired after seeing so many people taking up walking.

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