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Creek Running North

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August 04, 2003


The late garden writer Henry Mitchell used to try to talk people out of planting trees in their gardens. A spruce that looks perfect in a five-gallon pot will rapidly outgrow its place in the garden, shade out the irises and muscle the azaleas aside, overwhelm the house. Mitchell recommended planting anything other than trees. If nothing else would do, he said, one should restrict one's self to dwarf or slow-growing trees, miniature Alberta spruces or flowering cherries grafted onto dwarf rootstock, which would know their place in the garden and stay there.

The longer I garden, the more I sneer at the notion of "slow-growing" trees. I plant them, turn my back, and turn again to find they've tripled in size. I'm not talking about the silver maples I planted in our yard in New York, which now overtop the house, if the owners haven't yet cut them down. Silver maples are "trash trees" - they can grow six feet a year. I'm talking about Catalina ironwoods, Xanthorrhoeas, cutleaf Japanese maples: the kind that pout out a few leaves each spring, an inch of new trunk, and that nonetheless seem to grow at an amazing rate, nourished with a thick mulch of calendar pages.

This isn't just a problem with trees, of course, as the image of my grandfather staring out from my bathroom mirror will attest. But still: last year I went out to scrape clean every squirrel-planted live oak and black walnut, and this year they're back twice, three times as tall.

Tree, squirrel or person, we all grow in the same direction. This week, I built raised garden beds from 350 feet of redwood two by six. Not even close to old-growth, the trees from which my lumber was made were probably younger than I. The boards were green. They didn't yet realize the trees had been cut. Driving the decking screws to join the planks I watched tears of sap well up to the surface of each hole, tremble at the lip of the countersink, then weep onto the thirsty soil.

This is a belated entry in a collective writing project on Trees and Place at the Ecotone Wiki.

Posted by Chris Clarke at August 4, 2003 04:44 PM TrackBack URL for this entry:

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decorative line of bighorn petroglyphs


The wonderful little-used word 'fecundity' comes to mind.

Posted by: fredf at August 4, 2003 06:45 PM
decorative line of bighorn petroglyphs

I'd happily wait a number of days for that last paragraph.

Posted by: beth at August 5, 2003 08:05 AM
decorative line of bighorn petroglyphs