Over the years, I have planted countless varieties of trees — from exotic specimens to treasured native species — on my property in Bedford, N.Y. When the nights grow longer and the temperatures drop, the farm is ablaze in golds, reds and oranges as these beautiful trees put on their colorful autumn display.
My interest in trees started in earnest when we bought our first house, in Middlefield, Mass. Our cottage was nestled in what was reputed to be a “virgin” forest of spruce, cherry and maple, on a piece of property that had never been cleared for dairy cows or tilled for crops.
Every tree was a valuable asset to me, and I worried when a bough broke or a trunk had to be severed. But to this day, I often wish I had removed a huge burl that protruded from the giant trunk of an ancient cherry, to make a salad bowl as a memento of all the wonderful days we experienced there on Clark Wright Road. However, I would never have “wounded” that tree, though I did think about it.
It was in Westport, Conn., on my beloved Turkey Hill property, that I developed my passion for planting, pruning and nurturing beautiful woodland and ornamental varieties. For a while I got caught up in the “How big a tree can I afford?” syndrome, generally associated with the “aging of a gardener” who wants instant gratification, instead of waiting for a small tree to grow large.
After I moved to Bedford, I learned the hard way that not all big trees transplant well. I lost several costly specimens that I thought I needed to instantly beautify my newly refurbished homestead. As it turned out, many of the smaller trees caught up to the larger ones in just a couple of years, and were oftentimes healthier, more robust and even more fantastic.
For me, trees are an essential element of any yard, lawn or landscape. It’s important when designing your space to pay attention to the potential size, shape and color of each tree you plant, so that mistakes are not made that will be difficult to remedy.
Just as I have become fond of certain varieties, you will, too.
My linden allée is gorgeous all year, as is my pin-oak allée, which I planted myself just 10 years ago and is now a big feature at the farm. The weeping beeches and hornbeams are showstoppers, and the stewartias, magnolias and chestnuts are equally impressive.
What is most important is that all of these trees, planted with care and attention to detail, will continue to grow and thrive, adding beauty and importance to the environment while always remaining my friends, and friends of the generations to come.
HOW TO PLANT A TREE
They are vital to our existence. Among their numerous virtues: Trees provide oxygen, help clean the air, benefit wildlife and reduce the effects of climate change.
Plant in the fall. Purchase a specimen at your local nursery, or become a member of the Arbor Day Foundation and it will send you 10 free trees (membership begins at $10; arborday.org).
Find a location. Think about how much light the spot receives. What are the soil conditions? Does it receive good drainage? Is there enough room for the tree to grow? (For example, is it near the house or a sidewalk, or are there telephone wires overhead?) Consider the projected height and width, as well as the potential root span.
Dig a hole. Make it approximately two or three times as wide as the root ball, and of the same depth. Be careful not to plant the tree too deep, which can suffocate the roots. Backfill with soil removed from the hole, mulch and water thoroughly after planting, and continue to do so every week for the first year.
IN LIVING COLOR
Here are my favorite varieties that I have growing on the farm.
1. Bald cypress: The needles on this deciduous conifer turn orange-brown before dropping in fall.
2. Apple: Several specimens that are original to the property provide fruit to make cider.
3. Sugar maple: This towering example could be more than one hundred years old.
4. Japanese stewartia: Beautiful in all seasons, this slow grower has exfoliating bark and produces camellialike flowers in summer.
5. Weeping hornbeam: Striking and unusual, it provides an umbrella of shade.
6. Pin oak: I planted an allée of this fast-growing variety, which can reach 70 feet in height.
To learn more about trees, I suggest these books:
- The Glory of the Tree: An Illustrated History, by Noel Kingsbury (Firefly, 2014)
- The Hillier Manual of Trees & Shrubs, edited by John G. Hillier and Roy Lancaster (Royal Horticultural Society, 2014)
- Dirr’s Encyclopedia of Trees & Shrubs, by Michael A. Dirr (Timber Press, 2011).
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