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Dreaming of trees

American sycamores

American sycamores on both side of the street

Since moving to Greenfield we seem unable to get through a day, or night, without thinking and dreaming about trees. When we bought our house, which was surrounded by nothing more than lawn, our attention was taken by the giant American sycamore on the tree belt in front of our house. I called an acquaintance, Dennis Ryan, who is a retired arborist and professor at the University of Massachusetts. I described our tree which we believed was a sycamore, but were not sure. He asked if it shed lots of bark as well as leaves. I gritted my teeth and said yes, it was always shedding bark. American sycamore it is, not a London plane tree which has a similar and handsome mottled bark.

The only other tree in front of our house is a lilac tree. This Japanese lilac tree is a true syringa. When it bloomed after we took possession of our house in  June 2015 we were thrilled with the large white panicled blossoms that were so fragrant they perfumed our who yard. It took a little research to discover its name, but I soon began to notice that a number of Japanese lilac trees are being planted in town. It doesn’t seem to be on many lists of recommended town trees but I think it should be. It grows to about 25 feet tall, with a similar spread and blooms through June in our region.

Japanese syringa

Japanese lilac tree in mid June

roadside maple trees

Roadside maple trees

We got those beauties with the house, but we wanted trees for the back garden as well. The first concern is to plant the right tree in the right spot. Our choice was river birch because it loves wet soil. River birch has exfoliating bark, a clumping habit, and will grow to 40-70 feet. It has grown well and is now about 20 feet tall. We liked it so much we planted another in the same bed.

Trees are an important part of our domestic landscapes, providing shade and interesting form and color to delight our eyes as it dances in the wind or changes color from delicate greens in the spring and brilliant color in the fall. While there is no denying the aesthetic delight of trees, there are the services that trees provide. They clean our air, provide oxygen, cool our cities, create barriers for unattractive views, muffle the sound of busy streets, and provide food for insects and birds that eat the insects, as well as a dozen other benefits.

Trees are important to the streetscapes of our town. Greenfield has tree wardens who can work with residents who want trees on their street. In addition, Greening Greenfield is a community organization designed to increase the sustainability of our town. One element of their goal is to increase the number of trees lining our streets.

Like all of us, trees have a lifetime. Once there were giant elms marching up and down Main Street providing beauty, shade and a sense of stability. Then Dutch elm disease hit Greenfield’s Main Street, and elms all over the country. There are ongoing efforts to replace the street trees in Greenfield. I’m sure we have all seen young trees planted by the town on the tree strip or on the front lawns of residences with their watering bags.

My neighbor Wendy Sibbison and I are interested in getting more trees on our street. When Sibbison was on the town council 20 years ago she was instrumental in getting a number of trees planted on our street, but some of them have died. Other trees on the street are simply old and failing. We met with the town tree wardens, Paul Ratskevitz and Mike Duclos, and they gave us a list of the trees that the town usually plants. They explained that residents can request a tree, or trees for their street and their name will be put on a waiting list. There is not a lot of money for street trees in the town budget so it is hard to say how long residents will have to wait. It is also possible for a resident to buy a street tree themselves and the town will plant it, and maintain it for a year with a water bag. In that case it is possible that the tree will be planted much more quickly.

Sibbison pointed out that the trees on our street are planted on residents’ lawns where the tree roots are less constricted and there is less stress from road salt. Paul Raskevitz said they prefer planting trees on lawns for that very reason. In fact Massachusetts General Law (M.G.L.) Chapter 87, Section 7, specifically allows towns and cities to plant trees within 20 feet of the public right of way. These trees are considered to be ‘public shade trees’. Aside from the benefit to the tree, planting on a lawn lessens the problems of hitting public utility lines under the tree strip, or the power lines above it.

Between the Rows   September 30, 2017

8 comments to Dreaming of trees

  • Joanna @ Gingham Gardens

    Very interesting read. We moved last year and the house we purchased had lots of old maples and ash trees that had been planted to close together. So we’ve had lots of them removed and still need to have a few more removed. It’s very costly and we miss the shade, but not the mess. We’re slowly replacing some (another costly process). Honestly, I’d rather spend the money on flowers. Have a great weekend.

  • How nice that your town will plant street trees for you. Our town will only take away the debris from a tree that you cut down. I guess that is better than nothing.

  • Pat

    Lisa – I think in a town named Greenfield the powers that be feel they have to try and live up to the image.

  • Pat

    Johanna – We were lucky – to have only grass surrounding 2 sides of our house. We’ve had the pleasure of planting big shrubs including 2 river birches, a weeping cherry, and a dappled willow. The shrubs do get bigger every day.

  • How very nice that the town will plant trees on the street for you, even if you might have to wait awhile! When I lived down south, it was town code that every little house lot had to have a tree. While that was wonderful, sadly most landscapers put in unfortunate choices of trees, such as the Bradford Pear that has turned into such an environmental disaster.

  • Pat

    Indie – Unfortunately, many bad trees have been planted. Some of those bad decisions were because of a lack of knowledge about specific trees, and sometimes, alas, because that knowledge took time to arrive – as in the case of the Bradford Pear.

  • When my husband and I chose a lot for our home we liked that we were on a private park and that eight trees would be planted right behind our lot. After building, eight ash trees were planted., They grew rapidly and provided privacy and shade. Then the ash borer arrived and all of them were removed. I planted a Rivers birch in my own yard to make up for the loss and it is just gorgeous. I just wish our town would do something about the glossy-leaved buckthorn which are taking over the open areas.

  • Pat

    Denise – What a sad story. I am glad the River Birch worked for you. It is not always easy to get the town to plant trees, so I guess they will never take action over invasisives.

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