The story below is an excerpt from our March/April 2015 issue. For the rest of this story and more like it subscribe today, view our digital edition or download our FREE iOS app!
And more precisely, when you plant, think like the species of tree you’re putting into a hole, and about its future there.
Not long after I moved to my mountain cabin, I had to replace the wooden posts holding up the house with a cement block foundation. I didn’t have money to face the block with rock and hated the way it looked. So a friend drew a plan to screen the block using picturesque little evergreens. Lots of block still showed once we got the trees in, but my friend assured me that they would grow quickly, which they did. Trouble was, they didn’t stop with screening the block. Soon they were obscuring the view from my bedroom and office windows. Planted too close to the house, their roots threatened the foundation I’d spent all that money on. Not many years after planting them, I had to cut them all down.
“Do yourself a favor and think waaay ahead when buying woody plants,” writes Karan Davis Cutler, author of Brooklyn Botanic Garden Handbook #176, Pruning Trees, Shrubs & Vines. “Those five-foot blue spruces that perfectly frame the front door can’t be kept that small forever. Boston ivy won’t just cover a well, it will cover the neighborhood. Rhododendrons the size of laundry baskets get to be the size of garden sheds.”
Better advice was never given – nor, I’m betting, more often ignored.
Because my acre of land is mostly wooded, and because I’ve always wanted lots of flowers and veggies in the cleared space, planting trees hasn’t been something I thought much about. That is, until three or four years ago, when I began staying at the home of retired psychiatric nurse Susan Hastings up in Afton, Virginia, on my fall hawkwatching trips. Susan is passionate about trees, not just looking at them, one of my great pleasures, but about planting, pruning and nurturing them, helping them to become what it is in their DNA to be.