I like trees because they seem more resigned to the way they have to live than other things do. (Willa Cather)
I’ve always taken good care of my trees. Back in Ann Arbor I had several trees that I was very attached to emotionally. I had a Norway Spruce that the White House would have been proud to have as their Christmas tree. It was the largest, oldest in Ann Arbor and at the base of the drive with unchecked space it grew to over 100 ft high by 30 ft wide. I often wondered what it would cost to put lights on that puppy. I had a Bradford pear that I planted as a seedling and when I left that home it was in full bloom at about 35 feet. Right out the front window we had a white birch that had far exceeded it’s life span for a water bound tree and was home to many many birds who came to the feeders there. My neighbor would make me a lovely collage of that tree , done on clementine boxes, as a parting gift when I moved.
(you can see the collage of my birch tree on clementine boxes, now on the wall of the mountain house.)
My favorite tree at that house was a wedding gift to Rich and me. We were given a gift certificate to the American Heritage Tree Nursery and we selected a Yoshino Flowering Cherry, aka a Tidal Basin Cherry like the ones in D.C. that were a gift to the American people. Original stock. We ordered it and it arrived in a 4 ft tube with a 4ft stake and detailed planting instructions and it was no bigger than a pencil with about as much evidence of life. I was appalled and called the folks at the nursery and they said, essentially, “patience, Grasshopper. Have a little faith.” I planted that pencil and by the time the weather started to turn cold I could feel two small nodes, barely perceptible, with a promise for Spring. Come Spring those nodes turned into leaves and all that growing season the cherry tree had 4 leaves. Since I had high hopes for it, I had made a large circle, outlined by rocks from Lake Michigan and planted some shallow root primrose at its feet. They flourished and bloomed. Late in the summer the husband of the couple who gave us that gift was diagnosed with advanced bladder cancer. The wife was a good friend from BCMA. The battle was on. I HAD to keep that tree alive. Late that fall it went to bed with 4 swollen nodes and David just plain went to bed. In the end, David died and the tree lived. When I sold the house 3 years later to move to Chicago I couldn’t bear to leave the now flourishing young Cherry tree but it was growing well enough that transplanting had become an issue, especially when left in the hands of a grieving home owner and a grieving widow. We humped that tree over to Linda’s down-sized new home where everything was still mud and construction and damn, if that Michigan Spring didn’t last five minutes before it turned to hot, dry Michigan summer. She said she would work on it as well as her heart and energy could muster but neither of us were particularly optimistic and life went on. We moved to Chicago and Linda remarried. This year she sent me a picture of that Tidal Basin Cherry.
When I lived in Ann Arbor, if I needed tree work done (this would have been through the nineties when I was an established mature homeowner) I would have called some company with a solid reputation like Urban Foresters and they would come out and give me a bid for 800.00 to trim up the trees and treat the cedar-apple rust and I would save up for a month or so and then have them out to do the work.
When we moved to Chicago I began doing my own tree work on the flowering crabs that were in our meager courtyard. By climbing onto the roof of the detached 4 bay garage that served the entire condo building and by leaning out in far too precarious a posture for a woman of an age where bone scans are routine, I managed to whip them into a nice shape and they bloomed well while we lived there. Mostly, I went down to the conservatory on the lake and the area all around my beloved zoo when I wanted to see really good trees.
North Carolina has brought us more trees than we can shake a stick at- they’re everywhere, acres of them. A lot of nut trees- hickories, oaks, chestnuts- all with fruit that shoots out of the sky like missiles when the weather is just so. Fruit trees including apples and a Damson Plum I plan to use for Damson gin and of course, spectacular rhodies and shockingly orange flame azaleas. It’s tree paradise and they most all take care of themselves and all we have to do is haul off downed branches after a wind blows through. I do fuss over the giant Carolina hemlock which has been doing battle with woolly adelgid disease since we moved in, but as of this fall, the tree is winning.
And then there is Florida. In keeping with the general Florida theme, there are some real gems down here and then there are a lot of trash trees. We removed a giant Brazilian Pepper with some reluctance this past year as it was home to half a dozen Cardinal families and provided good shade on the kitchen side of the house. It also provided more falling garbage than any tree I’ve ever encountered. Dropping little invasive seeds and berries on everything, it would get so bad that we couldn’t step foot int the kitchen door without removing our shoes and I was continuously pulling out millions of little trees. So good riddance to that tree and I don’t say that lightly.
Oaks. We have Live Oaks here in Florida (Quercus virginiana) and they are indeed lively, multi-trunked and branching trees with great canopies that are constantly dropping shit. They celebrate Fall and Spring simultaneously because the thing that forces them to drop leaves is not a change in temperature like their Northern cousins but rather, new leaf nodes pushing off old leaves. This means that in a matter of weeks, but continuing for months, there are leaves everywhere along with flower parts and yellow pollen. Inches of pollen. Pollen that turns a British Blue purebred cat into a scratching yellow rat. Pollen than covers the furniture, floors, counters and makes it so you can’t see out the windshield of your car. Because live oaks have such a broad canopy they also drop branches and limbs and sticks and threaten to topple on your roof come hurricane season. And while the Florida bungalow is a place where I would rather not invest much time or money in the care of all these wild and crazy trees, it dawns on us periodically that we need to make sure they don’t become a liability to our house or the neighbor’s. Today a truck full of guys with a tall ladder and chain saws came by and offered to “clean up” our oaks. I swear these are the same guys I see panhandling by the freeway off ramp every day- truly, I did recognize them. But here they were, still toothless and filthy, but chainsaw in hand. To their credit, in response to my first question regarding license and insurance, they produced a soggy well-handled business card that said “licensed and insured.” I took it from him just in case( he really wanted to hang on to it and I could see his eyes shifting with indecision: “a card in the hand or beer?”) and we gave them the job. Rich stood out on the front walk and supervised and in something under two hours the six guys had removed every low hanging branch on the property for 175.00. We had previously had this same job bid by a professional tree company, one where the guys wore polo shirts with logos, for 700.00. What can I say? I think it’s a sign of the times that 6 guys will trim all these giant oaks and haul away the refuse for 175.00 and also that we would consider hiring them. The whole episode made me very nervous but it’s done now and it looks great. Rich had to follow them to the compost center to show his license so they could dump the stuff for free and he noted that they took side streets all the way, rather than the main road. Hmmm. There was one fatality; I guess that was bound to happen.