Planting a tree is an act of optimism – a clear statement of belief in the future. You must have vision, especially if the tree is a mere whip at planting time. The spreading umbrella of shade or the pouf of fragrant blossom will take time to materialize. It may not achieve its full majesty in our lifetime, but a carefully planted specimen will reward us with untold pleasure as we watch it develop from year to year. I find myself driving by my old neighborhoods just to see how something I planted there is getting on. It’s like visiting the best longtime friends with shared memories. It always surprises me to see how something that I planted as a sapling has become a real tree in my absence.
Unlike perennials that can be put in willy nilly and moved around at will, a tree demands forethought. Its mature height and spread will need to be considered. Some are fast growers; others take their own sweet time. Impulse buys are best avoided on pain of creating a monument to rashness that can only be remedied with a chain saw. My natural inclination is to be haphazard. It doesn’t bode well for the siting of trees, so I enlist the aid of my partner in life, who is more inclined to take the long view. A case in point is the magnolia . We took turns standing on a proposed spot, while the other went inside to peruse the effect from various windows. After much wild gesticulating (a little to the left, back, back, not quite so far…no, that won’t do at all…), we agreed upon a setting where the little tree glows against the darker background of the forest and can be seen to advantage from three windows of the dining room. It has plenty of room to reach for the sky. I can all but see the monster blossoms unfurling to dinner plate magnificence. What a day that will be!
When we planted street trees, we did the research, made our choice and planted two flowering pears across the front of the house. They had been growing there for three years when the need for a third tree became apparent. I called my horticulturist friend, Michelle, to tell her what we were after. She came to measure the circumference of the trunks of the existing trees so she could allow for transplant shock. The new tree would have to be slightly bigger or it would never catch up. She then sought out a specimen meeting all of the requirements and delivered it to the site. Her detailed instructions for its care left us feeling she was parting with her first-born child. Now that is what I call a dedicated nursery person. Too much to ask for? Not really. You may be surprised by the ardor of arborists – and why not? Beyond their physical beauty, trees do so much for us. They clean our air, shade us from the blazing sun, produce food and stand as sentinals over the history of a place. On a practical note, each tree adds to the value of a property.
As a rule, trees are big-ticket items worth every penny. To get around financial constraints, think about joining the National Arbor Day Foundation. For a nominal membership fee, they will express their thanks by sending you ten free trees. The flowering group includes two flowering dogwoods, two Kousa dogwoods, two crabapples, two Washington hawthorns and two American redbuds. Alternatively, you can opt for a selection of two each of five varieties of oaks or ten Colorado Blue Spruces. When I received my ten free trees, I was distracted by other things. The poor little trees languished on the back porch. When I finally got around to planting them, I had little hope for their survival. I was in for a surprise. They thrived despite my shameful neglect, and within two years were flaunting pride of place and contributing considerable charm to the landscape. Imagine what might happen if one treated them with all due respect and followed the easy planting instructions to the letter.