A Gift To The Garden Is A Gift To The Planet
One of my favorite places to relax is in a little sunporch off my bedroom. The glass roof echoes rain sounds delightfully and the big glass sliders offer an uninterrupted view of trees and sky. Years ago, people could see the water of Fletcher Bay from this room. Now, I can get a glimpse of the water in winter, when the alders and maples shed their leaves. Even then, the cedars and firs encircle me with trees that frame a skyful of clouds.
I don’t miss the water view, really. Sure, it would be nice to see the sparkling bay, but I’ve always felt that trees are in themselves a view well worth cherishing. If I were an artist, I’d make enormous paintings of treetops and clouds reflecting every mood and season. They could hang in cities where it’s hard to see the sky and where trees are rare and mostly tame or dispirited.
Plant A Tree
Since I’m not a painter, I find great satisfaction in planting as many trees as I can. I am so lucky to be able to plant public spaces, from the local library grounds to local schools and churches. I was thrilled this past year to get the chance to plant a new public park near the ferry terminal. I was given a list of a dozen interested people who wanted to help, but none of them responded to calls or emails about meetings. That turned out to be awesome, since it meant I could do whatever I wanted.
That park has two beds, one of about 5,000 square feet that’s near the street, and another of about 10,000 square feet that backs onto a ravine. The first bed is more formal, holding a sheet of a low-growing, evergreen, shrubby honeysuckle called Lonicera pileata Royal Carpet. There are only three trees in that bed; two Mount Fuji cherries, which will mature into low, wide-skirted beauties that will float like clouds over the mass of green, and a lovely Japanese maple called Acer palmatum Katsura, which colors gorgeously in spring and fall. Each is given enough room to develop into a striking specimen with fully developed form and character.
The L-shaped larger bed is called the Wild Garden, since it flows into the natural environment on the backsides of the L. Here, we installed dozens of trees, clustering native shadbush (Amelanchier) and wild cherries into thickets, as they grow in the wild, and spacing a few specimen maples where they have space to shine. These trees are layered down from the towering skyline of bigleaf maples to the retaining wall with massed shrubs. At the back are groups of ocean spray, Indian plum, sumac and elderberry, along with Garryas, colorful twiggy dogwoods, and buxom Mahonias. Lacing through them are 300 evergreen huckleberries to knit the clusters into a whole.
Here, most of the trees are woven into a living tapestry rather than free standing. In a few seasons, this dense planting will scoop like the sides of a bowl, flowing downward from the surrounding mature treetops to the wide walkways where passersby stroll. The front stretches of the Wild Garden are tamed into sweeps of low-growing barberries and spireas, which so far have not been eaten by the ever-present deer.
Bring It All Home
Not everyone has such a majestic setting to play with, of course, but almost any of us can find space for a tree or two. If your available space is small, look for charming compact trees, some of which can live contended in a container or tree box for decades. If you have room to paint on a bolder scale, plant trees for every season, considering fall color as much as spring bloom, summer fruit, and winter silhouette.
Worried about the environment? Plant a tree. Even a small tree is a gift to the world, exchanging carbon dioxide for oxygen every day its whole life long. The Arbor Day Foundation says, “a mature leafy tree produces as much oxygen in a season as 10 people inhale in a year.” A recent New York Times article claimed that “one acre of trees annually consumes the amount of carbon dioxide equivalent to that produced by driving an average car for 26,000 miles.” Naturally, the amount of either substance being consumed or created will vary depending on each tree’s size, kind, and state of health. Still, it’s an impressive contribution to the wellbeing of the world.
Plant With An Eye To The Future
While few of us have an acre of land to devote to trees, every tree we plant is a gift to the earth and all its critters. Sadly, many trees fail to reach their full life span because they are planted in inappropriate places. Trees placed too close to buildings, trees planted under power lines, trees set smack by a sidewalk or roadway are largely doomed to die long before their natural lifespan is reached.
When you think about planting a tree, consider both the tree’s ultimate size and the available space. Stand where you want to put your tree and look up. If the airspace is already full of branches, think again. This is especially important when planting a potentially majestic tree like a chestnut, a parrotia, or a katsura. All need a space the size of a house if they are to reach their full growth.
Pick The Right Tree
For many folks this means planting trees that mature at 12-20 feet instead of 100 footers. That’s not bad news, since there are dozens of excellent choices. Those who have a huge empty lot or meadow to fill can dream even bigger. True, a tree planted today won’t achieve grandeur for at least a few decades. However, planting trees is as much about tomorrow as it is about instant gratification.
I was recently sent a stunning set of pictures of “tree tunnels” from around the world. In one scene, ancient yews line a narrow country lane in Ireland. In another, stately sycamores flank a roadway in France. Still a third showed a road vanishing into a vista of flaming maples in New England.
Tunnels Of Leafy Love
Clearly, such plantings require one to own significant amounts of land, but how glorious a sight might be created if a whole neighborhood agreed to plant the same tree in each sidewalk strip. Years ago, friends in Victoria, BC took me for a ride in their Cadillac convertible. At one point they told me to shut my eyes and lean my head back. I opened my eyes to an endless mass of cherry blossom. Trees planted back in the 1950‘s now meet across the wide street, making a perfect arc of bloom in spring.
On another trip, I visited a hazelnut farm in Oregon, where the trees formed seemingly endless arches running across rolling hills. That scene was all the more enchanting because grape hyacinths had naturalized throughout the orchard in an unbroken carpet of blue. There’s something majestic about such scenes, something that creates a sense of awe and wonder. As John Muir, the Scottish naturalist who founded the Sierra club once wrote, “Everyone needs beauty as well as bread, places to play and pray, where nature heals and gives strength to body and soul alike.”
Look With New Eyes
Lack room for a full-out tree tunnel? Look around, look up, and see where a tree or two might make themselves at home. Even modest properties can host arboreal marvels on a smaller scale. If not a fabulous specimen, why not plant an allee of beeches, or birches, or laburnum, or lilacs? Dream into it, research the possibilities, and plant a gift for the garden and the world.