Thanksgiving week I was taking a long walk with some visitors to our farm -- nothing like a stroll through the woods and pastures to relieve the sins of the dinner table. Along the way I was pointing out some of the tree species I have planted over the last 35 years or so. A half an hour into it, my brother-in-law commented, “I didn’t know you such an arborist.”
I never thought of myself as such, but in fact I have planted at least 700 trees during that time. Perhaps 300 survive today – maybe 200. It’s not that I don’t know what I’m doing. It’s more that I face lots of challenges like last summer’s drought, which wiped out all 100 evergreen seedlings I planted. Or the deer that rub the trunks of just about any kind of tree that is not protected; or the increasing rabbit population that enjoy nibbling on tender young tree trunks; or something that I can only identify as sudden-death-syndrome.
My first plantings were a row of white pines along an old fence that ran next to the pond. I got the seedling from the Soil and Water District tree planting packet. Only four of them remain. They are now 30 years old and are towering beauties. A few of the spruces and Norway pines from the initial packet are also still standing near our pond.
Then I got the notion I needed to replace a majestic white oak that died just across the fence from our place in the neighbor’s pasture. White oak furniture and cabinets were very popular at the time and I was discouraged to think there would no longer be an acorn provider for both farms. There are still a few of those slow-growing white oaks around. The tallest are about 10 feet.
Next I decided we needed some hemlocks to remind me of the ones that grew in the ravines of the Chagrin Valley I grew up exploring as a boy. I planted them in some remote places and surprisingly many have survived. Someday some new owner of our farm will wonder where in the world the hemlocks came from. I myself wonder about a tall stand of Scotch pines that guard the corner of our front pasture. Probably came from a seedling packet planted by a conservation-minded farmer in the 1960s.
Most recently I have concentrated on a small Christmas tree plantation I have started. Plantation? Maybe a grove or a nursery. I have blue spruce, Frazier firs, Douglas firs, white pines, Norway pines and Canaan firs in the area. I cut a tree of heaven that was shading them last summer. So now I also have about 20 small ailanthuses in the grove as well. They will have to go.
The goal is to one day cut our own Christmas tree from this stand. Right now it looks like that will have to be a Charlie Brown-type Christmas tree, but there is still time for them to grow up. I am hoping for the day they are big enough to trim and shape. Meanwhile the deer continue to provide their own shearing procedures to the young trees. And the weather and disease take an annual toll. No doubt some invasive species is also lurking to infest the fragile stand. I think of it as a numbers game. If I keep planting 50 or so a year, I am bound to get at least one someday.