Oak trees are the predominant variety of trees shading the gardens at Hoe and Shovel.
Among a few other varieties there is a deciduous sprawling tree with a canopy covering much of the center-back gardens.
Its limbs mingle into the outer edges of the oak trees and stands a solid 35 feet tall with at least an equal spread.
Naked winter branches reveal a large number of epiphytes making it their home.
The Ulmus parvifolia ‘Drake’ Elm or Chinese Elm was planted almost directly center in the back garden in 1991. At that planting its slender trunk was barely 1.5" thick and only about 5 feet tall. The original cost of only $9.95 indicates more than anything how small it was.
Poking around in the archives I found the above photo giving us perspective of its leafed-out summer foliage stage (from September 2009). Very different from the previous current photo in this, the bleakest of winters.
Over the years it has been a source of dappled light for the center gardens during the hottest months of the year. It was placed with thoughts of southward sunshine in winter offering more warmth to the plantings surrounding its feet and beyond as it loses its leaves.
Just as importantly, it has been a source of cover for the birds, a stop-off per se between the oaks in the front of the house and the oaks in the back. Not so importantly the pesky squirrels use it to traffic their stolen goods. The wildlife, whether invited or not, fortunately have plenty of other options close by for foraging and playful times.
With the decision to fell this tree I'm confident the creatures will make quick adjustments in their routines.
It's a decision we've been putting off for a couple of years. Cutting down a beloved tree is never an easy choice to make in any garden. We cherish our trees. We depend on them. We've nurtured many of them from tree-lings.
This tree has served its purpose well for many years. It has performed outstandingly in spite of the blight it developed in its center causing it to form a hole partially through the trunk. Naturally that pocket collects water, stays moist, and appears to have created an unhealthy environment for the tree.
If there is a good time to cut down a tree winter is the time. While the garden is least active and the understory hopefully sustains the least amount of damage by falling limbs and men trampling around with saws, ropes, ladders, and stump grinding machines.
The loss of this tree will change the environment somewhat of the planting beds built with protection of the shade it provided in mind.
The consequences of the loss have been well thought out prior to this inevitable decision.
Even so, it is difficult to know exactly how some of the existing plant life will be affected when summer's sun reaches its peak.
I know my fellow gardeners know the consternation a decision like this creates. There are so many considerations and even memories involved. Have you ever had to take down a tree you planted, hung baby swings in for grandchildren, planned picnics on the lawn underneath or took so many family photos around it?
There will likely be adjustments made to our familiar thinking when choosing new plants and designs for this area from now on.
In the meantime, the stump was ground into sawdust so eventually plants can take the place of the large space once occupied by this outstanding landscape tree.
I probably wouldn't replant the Drake Elm again in my garden. Mostly because of its tendency as it matured to sport brittle limbs that seem to break easier than expected during windy storms.
One of its most appreciated features in my view is undoubtedly its uniquely textural and showy bark.
The bark naturally exfoliates revealing a mottled tones of greyish-brown and even shades of peachy-oranges.
I'll miss the Drake Elm's shady, filtered light and graceful branches lingering far from its base. But the visual interest and great texture it provided standing in the midst of the garden will also be missed greatly.