As I look out my window today the ground is a tapestry of beige, green and white. The meadow grasses have died back, but the lawn is a brilliant green because it has loved this long cool, but not frozen, autumn and there are still patches, large and small, of the snow that keeps tantalizing us. Winter may be coming, but it is shy this year, stepping out and then retreating.
The winter garden can be a challenge for gardeners, but today I am looking at the trees in my landscape. Two are particularly important to me. Right next to the Cottage Ornee is an ancient apple tree. Even when we first moved here over the 30 years ago, the tree had been damaged. The main trunk had begun to rot and to hollow out. By the time we had young grandsons there was enough room to allow them to slide down the interior of the trunk from the tree house to the ground. I want you to know we did not encourage this pasttime, but their mischief did not seem to damage the tree.
Over the years it has lost two great sections to ice. Again and again we thought irreparable damage was being done, but the apple tree carries on, blooming every spring, dropping immature fruit on the metal roof of the Cottage all summer and giving me enough apples for applesauce every fall. In the winter it is a veritable sculpture.
The other tree stands alone in a field to the west of the house. This is an old yellow birch, with a graceful spreading shape. This tree is noble in every season and every weather. I have taken hundreds of photos of it veiled with the earliest spring green, throwing deep shade in summer, nearly hidden in autumnal mists, and a crystal vision, encased in winter’s ice and frost.
We have planted trees for our daughters and grandchildren. For the girls we chose lindens (Tilia cordata) but they have not faired well. Only our daughter Diane’s linden, and her daughter Caitlin’s remain, both have suffered greatly, but so far these two are surviving. I enjoy lime flower tea which is actually made of linden flowers. Every winter I promise myself I will harvest the small fragrant linden flowers but so far I have not done so. Next spring I am sure I will absolutely pay attention to bloom and harvest time.
We planted gingko trees in the Lawn Beds for our five grandsons, in their honor, but also in memory of our China sojourns. One of the five trees did not last long, but the other four have done well over the past 13 years. The boys are growing tall, but not as tall as their trees. Those trees do remind us of how quickly time passes, and how brief is childhood.
People always ask me about the foul smelling fruit ginkgos produce. We have not had to worry about this, and probably never will. First you need to have male and female ginkgos; at the moment we do not know the sex of our trees. In addition, the female trees do not bloom or produce fruit until they are mature, which we think will be sometime after our time on this earth.
Recently I wrote about the Harvard Forest. Since then I have been paying more attention to my own woodland. At the edge of our west field is a white pine woods. I knew that the pines had crept east into a southern slope that is not really visible from the house, but all of a sudden I realize that the pines are also creeping east and north. Soon I will have an ever larger ‘old field white pine’ forest.
After getting snowed in a couple of times during our early days at the end of the road we took the advice of our elderly neighbor Mabel Vreeland and planted a snowbreak along the road. The oldest of those trees, mostly white pine, but with a few Scotch pine and balsams, are now over 25 years old. We admire them from our dining table window, and give thanks for them all winter long. The road crew appreciates them too. No longer do winters snows drift six feet deep over the road.
We purposely over planted so that we would be able to take out our Christmas tree every year. This has resulted in some Charlie Brown Christmas trees, but we think ours all have an inner beauty, even if it is not apparent to others.
I think trees are an important part of our domestic landscape. They can offer shelter and food for birds, cooling shade for our house in summer, and protection from the wind in winter. It just takes a little planning.
What about the trees in your landscape? Do you have a grove? A ribbon of trees between your and your neighbor? Do you have a magnificent specimen? Do your trees carry you back in memory, and into thoughts of a hopeful future?
Will you plant a special tree in 2012? Many trees grow faster than you think, but don’t put off planting your tree. Plant memories and hope this year.
Between the Rows December 17, 2011