Lasting Landscapes by Carol

In with the Old

It’s a new year and that often means we discard the old and ring in the new. January 1 typically serves as a reset button where we let go of things that aren’t serving us and embrace positive change.

In this month’s blog I encourage you to embrace the old and recognize how important it is to do so. Of course, I’m talking about plants and specifically two trees – the American Elm (Ulmus americana) and the American Chestnut (Castenea dentata).

American Chestnut trees are functionally extinct, yet recently in some private woods in Delaware, a deer hunter spotted what appeared to be a mature Chestnut tree. After extensive evaluation, experts confirmed that this tree is in fact an American Chestnut with natural blight resistance.

Lasting Landscapes by Carol
Most Old American Chestnut trees like this one have vanished from the landscape.
Lasting Landscapes by Carol
American Chestnut in flower
Lasting Landscapes by Carol
A chestnut emerging from the burr

The reason the American Chestnut is so rare is because a blight mistakenly introduced in the 1900s killed 3-4 billion trees over a fifty-year period. In addition to the miraculous discovery of a living American Chestnut tree in the wild, researchers are busy breeding hybrid trees in an effort to introduce blight resistant varieties. Since the Chinese Chestnut is naturally blight resistant, it’s being bred to the American Chestnut. Researchers plant and evaluate resulting offspring. The goal of these breeding programs is to produce a tree that looks exactly like an American Chestnut but with blight fighting characteristics. To learn more, view these fascinating (to me) articles:

The American Elm suffered in a similar way to the American Chestnut. In 1930 the Dutch Elm fungus was introduced to the US by accident through a shipment of logs imported by a furniture maker. Fortunately, breeders have introduced some disease resistant cultivars to the trade. You’ll likely be able to find Ulmus americana ‘Valley Forge’ and ‘Princeton’ at a nursery near you. I planted the Princeton cultivar on my property this year since I’m striving to maintain a high canopy and feel a diverse selection of trees is paramount to my success.

Lasting Landscapes by Carol
Stately Elms stood proud in our forests.
Lasting Landscapes by Carol
Landscapers often planted Elms as street trees and to form allees.
Lasting Landscapes by Carol
The striking form of Elm leaves.
Lasting Landscapes by Carol
A Princeton Elm for sale at a local nursery.
Lasting Landscapes by Carol
A disease resistant Elm featured at a trade show.

I encourage you to plant a variety of trees on your property for your own pleasure and for the health of our planet. According to an article by Suki Casanave, a single large American elm, located on the southern side of a home, can intercept 2,384 gallons of storm water, conserve 107 kWh of energy, and sequester 518 pounds of CO2 annually. Since our native Ash and Red Oak trees are succumbing to pests (Emerald Ash Borer) and pathogens (Bacterial Leaf Scorch), the time to plant is now. Get out there. Hug a tree and most importantly plant one.


Rising from the ashes

When I first bought my property nearly 19 years ago, I was thrilled with the woodland setting and adored my many deciduous trees. But then I was made aware of the ash borer, an uninvited pest from Asia, and I became distraught over the 24 ash trees on my property and their pending demise if left untreated.

I consulted an arborist and together we determined it made sense to protect 10 of the trees with regular injections, while removing the rest. Over the last several years I have been removing trees. Some of the ash trees I removed were quite large, which meant I had a lot of ash wood to deal with and that’s where I had to get creative.

Cherished bowls made from ash trees on my property

With the first batch of ash trees removed, I asked Carlos Soler, a family friend and amazing woodworker to make wooden bowls for me with some of the remnants. Carlos did an amazing job and I cherish the bowls for their beauty, function and remembrance. You can find other artistic treasures made by Carlos by visiting his site on Etsy

Of course I saved some of the wood for firewood and gave a bunch to friends for the same purpose. But I quickly realized only a certain amount of firewood could be used in a reasonable time without most of it rotting. I still had a lot of wood to manage.

During a visit to Cape Cod a couple of years ago, I saw an amazing natural arbor at a local botanic garden. I showed the photos of the arbor to local chain saw artist Marty Long who was able to translate my vision into reality with collected branches.

An arch made from branches marks the entrance to the woods

In addition to my arch, which now marks the entrance to my woodland trail and invites guests to meander, Marty made a bench for me which I enjoy regularly. Yes, I actually do sit down from time to time – hurray! My new bench provides a great vantage point of the water feature and the woodland trail and gives my friends and me a place to pause, relax and enjoy.

An ash tree transformed into a bench

The last thing I have done with my ash trees is to leave some of them standing about 20 feet tall. This way they are not a hazard to garden visitors, can easily be taken down from the ground if they become a concern, and can benefit wildlife as they decay. Plus, it’s less expensive to take down a tree partially instead of completely!

Trees left standing

My point is, when life gives you lemons, or an invasive pest like the ash borer, you need to find a way to make lemonade. If you have ash trees that need to be removed, let me know how you are dealing with the issue. I am confident if you look hard enough, you’ll find the silver lining and ways to use that wood that enhances the beauty of your garden, provides ecological benefits and more.







Seeing the Forest and the Trees

Trees are my focus for this month. How can we not think about trees in October? They are turning beautiful hues and showing us how nice it can be to let go. 

Trees have also been on my mind because I recently attended a lecture given by Joan Maloof, author and founder of the Old-Growth Forest Network (OGFN). The mission of the OGFN is to connect people with nature by creating a national network of protected, mature, and publicly-accessible native forests. 
The organization was created because many of the old-growth forests were being logged, developed or otherwise destroyed. The OGFN strives to preserve the remaining old-growth forests in thousands of counties in the United States so all generations can experience a real forest and its native biodiversity.  
Joan’s lecture was given at Haverford College, which hosts an arboretum and some amazing specimen trees. After her lecture I felt inspired and decided to take advantage of the opportunity to sit underneath an elm tree that was a direct descendent of the Penn Treaty Tree. What a magical experience that was. Incredibly peaceful and calming. A ‘stop and smell the roses’ kind of moment.
Official designation for the Haverford Elm

Sitting under the Penn Treaty Elm

Looking up into the branches

Another amazing tree I saw recently was located in Tarrytown, NY at the Lyndhurst estate, former home of New York City mayor William Paulding, Jr., merchant George Merritt, and railroad tycoon Jay Gould. Check out this awe inspiring weeping beech tree! You can barely see me in the photo. 

Lyndhurst’s enormous weeping Beech

My next stop to admire trees was Boise, ID – known as the City of Trees. Boise is set in the foothills, which typically consist of grasses and sagebrush, not trees. Early homeowners were encouraged to improve their property with shade trees, which they did. 
The tree-lined Boise River

Trees all over the world have great lessons to teach. I’m certainly not the first to observe this fact. Oscar-winning actress Judi Dench loves trees so much she produced a documentary called ‘My Passion for Trees’. Filmed over the course of a year, the documentary studied trees throughout the seasons and helped Judi use science to tell the stories the trees can’t tell on their own. Judi saw trees in a new light and learned how they communicate with each other and deal with adversity. For Judi and for me, trees aren’t just trees. They are a community of living things who support each other and help us as human beings. 

I hope you’ll join me in living life according to some advice from a tree:

Advice from a Tree

Stand up tall and proud,

Sink your roots into the earth,

Be content with your natural beauty,

Go out on a limb,

Drink plenty of water,

Remember your roots,

Enjoy the view!

Ilan Shamir