Sunday, February 20, 2011

George Washington's Big Mistake is My Gain

Downed maple limbs

Dogwood branch snaps
I'm celebrating Presidents Day weekend by honoring a mistake that our first president made in 1792 when he purchased two Norway Maples from the much-trusted Philadelphia nurseryman and botanist John Bartram.

The president bought the trees for his Mount Vernon estate. And he must have thought that he chose well because the tree is known for its thick shade canopy, its early leafing (mid-April) and for its stunning yellow fall colors.

Bartram imported the seed from London and therein visited disaster on American forests and native trees, especially the Sugar Maple and other trees and shrubs in the understory. The Norway Maple, or Crimson King, has no friends on the Internet. When I send Ms. Google out looking for word on this tree, the only thing she can bring back to me is contempt, and shame, and vitriol.

More maple down
This maligned tree, an invasive in the United States, is banned in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. It is shunned in the District of Columbia, as well. Because of its thick canopy and shallow roots, it is a danger to native wild flowers, which won't grow beneath its dark shadow. Its copious seeds, flung far and wide, produce unwelcome progeny that prosper in the absence of natural predators. And it even is purported to poison nearby plants with a vicious toxin that it pumps into the soil around it.

My chairs

Turns out my maple that dropped some pretty significant wood during the storm is progeny of George Washington's mistake. When I called Bonifant Trees to give me an estimate on the clean up from all the storm damage, owner Tom Bonifant told me what kind of maple it was and of its nasty reputation.

Tom, I said, is this tree worth saving?

And Tom, tree-lover Tom, said, "To me, any tree is worth saving." And my heart melted.

Tom and I made plans to save old Norway. All the broken branches were trimmed back. All dying wood was removed. And a cable was installed high up, Philip Pettit-style, between the two dominant branches, so that in a wind storm, the tree would sway as one and not in competition with itself.

Now, I have long loved this tree and I will continue to honor it. Every tree is worthy.

To be sure, I can't be blamed for planting it. It was here when we bought the place. And every year, I've pulled out the whips that have tried to grow from its seed.

But this gorgeous old gal, her gnarled trunk ascends just alongside my deck and shades the table and chairs there. It continues on up to my bedroom window, where it splits into its two branches. It's there that a mother raccoon sometimes sits with her babies in the spring and we all get a wonderful thrill peeking at them (even as we realize that they'll grow up to invade our trash cans and steal the peaches from my peach tree).

But even more significantly, the reason that I love this tree is because I know that she loves me, and my family, and the family next door. Her branches that came down in the storm, I realize, could have so easily fallen and crushed roof tops, even smashed windows. Instead,her branches fell safely, taking out just a portion of our gutter. Easily repaired. No harm, no foul.

Bonifant came this week. He cleaned Ms. Norway up. And miraculously, too, his workers told me that the dogwood over my chair would be just fine, even though her dominant branch had also been severed in the storm. I had planned to cut her down. But she, too, will live to see another spring. And her buds on the remaining branch are plump and full of life.

George Washington, I cannot tell a lie, I saved and now honor a bad, bad invasive tree. But, your mistake is my gain. The Putterer

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Garden Fantasies

Aunt Rhody survived the storm.

She's a trooper. Buds all over the place.
Alright. I'm not going to beat around the proverbial bush, the last snow storm really messed up my garden. It's a disaster out there and I'm pissed.

It's bad, I tell you. The shade garden is seriously compromised because the beautiful dogwood branch that formed a ceiling that I've likened to the Sistine Chapel  is busted and broken. We're going to have to just cut her down, that poor old dogwood. And I'm telling you this, when the saw hits the trunk, it's going to feel like I'm slicing my off own leg. The maple over my deck might be hopelessly damaged, too. I can see it has a life-threatening split in one of her main branches. And besides that, I'm in agony about planning a new vegetable garden, knowing full well that That Fucking Deer is just going to come in and eat it all. So I've got some serious gardening issues here.

My inner-Meryl just wants so bad to have a garden like this!
The garden catalogs are arriving and piling up. I won't deny that I have been harboring some serious garden fantasies. I want to be Meryl Streep, complete with well-defined cheek bones and a makeup-free face trooping effortlessly through a weed-free vegetable garden, (you saw the movie "It's Complicated" with Alec Baldwin) plucking from the chard and the squashes and the tomatoes and the lettuces.

I want to wear a breezy white shift with a tie at the waist and a darling sun bonnet and wander aimlessly down perfect paths--Earth goddess like. I want an orchard with ripe fruit that glows from low-hanging branches. I want a grape arbor. I want built-in raised beds. I want colorful containers filled with basil and lavender and sage and parsley arranged artfully on the deck. I want day lilies at every turn.

Sigh. The Putterer