Notes from the arboretum

So help me, that still sounds like a really stuffy word. But I got a nice letter today (a real letter, on paper and with a stamp) from Merle Dean Feldman, the nurserywoman I wrote about meeting in an earlier post. She is the one who started me thinking in these terms, and I have come to peace with it, so I will tell you a little more of the story.

When I stopped at Storybook Farm, it was mostly out of curiosity. When Dave, the handyman and subsequently revealed husband of Merle Dean, came out to greet me, he asked me a few questions. When Merle Dean came out, he said, “She has 100 acres of trees,” which is pretty much true. But my trees are in timber forest for the most part, except for the 8-9 acres of somewhat flatland around the house.

Ten or so years ago, a neighbor who grows seedling trees for reforestation gave me some oddball culls from his greenhouses, trees he couldn’t sell but was reluctant to just throw on the burn pile. Among them were a Korean fir and a balsam fir. We planted them and fenced them from the deer. I told Kenny thank you and mentioned that I was sort of thinking of planting as many different kinds of trees as would survive here. Ben and I will not live long enough to see most of them reach anything resembling majestic maturity, but I was rather taken by the idea that some 100 years or so from now, an anthropoligist, historian, or even archeologist would be wandering through our property and ask, “Now how do you suppose a [insert tree name here] got to this place?”

This is not a totally specious imagining. If you wander around this area, there are many places where the only evidence of the homesteaders that used to be here is in the flowers that some pioneer wife planted near the house. Narcissus (daffodils) and day lilies survive the best. They are not native here, so when you see them, you can safely assume there was a homestead nearby. That’s where my field of “wild” daffodils came from.

At any rate, when I was wandering around Storybook Farm, I tried to explain to Merle Dean my interest in trees. She asked, “How long have you had your arboretum?” I protested that it wasn’t really an arboretum, just a bunch of ground with some different trees planted on it. “How long have you had your arboretum?” she repeated. “What do you have there?” She stopped me cold. She’s right. I have an arboretum, and now I have a rather solemn (if fun) responsibility.

This has placed a burden on me, but I realize it’s a happy burden. An arboretum, according to the dictionary is:

“A place where an extensive variety of woody plants are cultivated for scientific, educational, and ornamental purposes.”


[Latin arbortum, a place grown with trees, from arbor, tree.]

That’s our place–a place grown with trees. And to date we have Douglas fir (really a variety of pine, but that’s for another post), noble fir, hemlock, alder, Ponderosa pine, one paper birch (a truly mysterious volunteer up on the hill), big leaf maple, and vine maple. Except for the nobles and the Ponderosa, these are mostly native. To these we have added coast redwoods, sequoia, cedars (an original native but lost in the big fire), Korean fir, balsam fir, Alaskan yellow cedar, Colorado blue spruce, redbud, hawthorne, and pink dogwood. Many of these I planted when they looked something like sticks. They are now recognizable trees. Thanks to my trip to Storybook, they’ll soon be joined by a Japanese spruce (Siddon Sugi), “Blue ice” (a wonderful lacy tree that I suspect is really a cedar relative), and “Heatherbun,” a funny little bushlike tree with wonderful color. Who knows what will be next?

We also have several varieties of apples, ditto cherries and plums, an apricot tree with a weird affliction, and numerous pears. I have a cherry plum that each spring takes our breaths away with its blossoms.

I’m not sure why I’m writing this, but I think a person could do much worse with his life than to grow trees. I think I’ll keep growing them. I think maybe I’ll have an arboretum. I think maybe I won’t even be apologetic about it. . .

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8 Responses to “Notes from the arboretum”

  1. jennylitchfield Says:

    Allow me to share these quotes about trees and humanity when I read through the UN Environment Programme: Billion Tree Campaign.

    “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.”
    Greek proverb

    “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.”
    Martin Luther

    “The great French Marshall Lyautey once asked his gardener to plant a tree. The gardener objected that the tree was slow growing and would not reach maturity for 100 years. The Marshall replied, ‘In that case, there is no time to lose; plant it this afternoon!'”
    John F. Kennedy

  2. mklekacz Says:

    Jenny, what wonderful quotes! I’ve always thought of planting trees as a sign that one had hope for a future. I think that’s waht it is for me, at least. There is something that I can’t explain about trees. I once rescued a one-foot tall cedar seedling from a commercial planting. I saw it, knew it was a volunteer and that the next time the landscapers were through it would be history. I called the building manager and asked her if she minded if I dug it up. Her response: “Oh, my God, that’s much too close to the building for another large tree. Go ahead.” The tree is now about 10 years old and around twelve feet tall, more than twice my height. I feel great every time I look at it.

  3. jennylitchfield Says:

    The tree spoke to you. Would love to see some photos of your trees.

  4. mklekacz Says:

    I’ll be glad to post some pictures, but I’m going to wait until some of the deciduous ones are a bit further along. Are you in the southern hemisphere (from your e-mail address, that’s what I’m guessing)? If so, our seasons are just reversed.

  5. jennylitchfield Says:

    I live in New Zealand – you are correct about the reversal of the seasons.

  6. Philip Ferris Says:

    I absolutely love trees, my favourite spot in the UK is the Forest of Dean (too many commercial plantings of conifers but still beautiful).

    One of the marvellous features of Greece is her pine forests on the side of mountains; climbing up the slopes on a hot day and standing in their shade, a breeze carrying their scent.

  7. mklekacz Says:

    Jenny, you live in one of the places I hope to visit someday.

    Phil, I’m having a wonderful time fooling with specimen trees. One of these days, when spring is a little further along, I’ll post a few pictures as she requested. Did you ever see the movie “Zorba the Greek”? One of the main plot lines is about harvesting the monks’ pines from a hillside. If you’ve never seen it, you’ve missed a really fine commentary on what it means to be human, and fallible.

  8. Philip Ferrix Says:

    Problem my end with posting reply so see my blig entry responding re Zorba, trees and another film/book suggestion

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