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"Possibility and promise greet me each day as I walk out into my garden. My vigor is renewed when I breathe in the earthiness and feel the dirt between my fingers. My garden is a peaceful spot to refresh my soul." Meems

Welcome to my Central Florida Garden Blog where we garden combining Florida natives, Florida-Friendly plants, and tropicals.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

I'm Going to Miss that Bark!

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.


  1. Good bye, old elm. The loss of a tree always affects the garden -- and the gardener -- in many ways.

  2. Sadly, we had an oak fall, yes fall. We get so much rain and apparently the roots simply rotted and the 70 footer took a tumble only to find a colony of bees within one of its branches, a second surprise.

  3. Oh, Meems. The september picture with the old elm in the center is so lovely! That would be your forever memory about this tree. Although I don't have any experience of losing a big tree, I can feel for you! Just think about the bright side... You can have more sun-loving plants in that flower bed now ...

  4. It is very difficult to take down such a large tree, and I cringe everytime I see one coming down in the neighborhood. Now, you'll have a sunny spot in your garden for some sun-loving perennials, and that is always exciting, too. The best of both worlds...a sun and a shade garden. Hhmmm, a couple of roses might be nice there. :-)

  5. Wow. That would be so hard, Meems. Losing trees is difficult for me, too. We lost a 30 foot sweetgum after Hurricane Wilma and we've lost several long-leaf pines to lightening. In fact, we have two that need to come down even now, and it grieves me to think of how much that will change the landscape.

  6. Oh --I hate to see trees being cut down--but I understand that you really needed to do it. Better to do it during the winter though...

    Can't wait to see what the yard looks like in summer with the old elm...

  7. Dear Meems....I always feel so sad when an old tree is felled. Sometimes it is necessary but the decision is never an easy one.

    BUT gardens are ever changing, that is the way of things.......I look forward to seeing how this area developes.

  8. Oh my, Meems, we have a Drake Elm in our front yard, planted not too long ago. I hope we don't have such issues in the future. The neighbor around the corner cut a huge one down just before we planted ours. It was a gorgeous tree...both the canopy shape and the colorful bark were beautiful...but it also had problems. My husband chose this tree because he wanted quick shade and cold-hardiness. I requested an oak, magnolia, weeping bottlebrush, or tab tree. Of course, we already had all of those, but it would have just been more of a good thing. I didn't get my way, however. Now, I refer to the Drake Elm as my "yankee tree" since it is one of the few trees in our garden that can be found up north as well.

  9. It is unfortunate that the blight took hold. It was best to go ahead with it as you have done, rather than letting it fall on you out in the garden.

    Take care,

  10. How sad to lose an old friend. I cried like a baby when our last pine tree had to be cut down because the tree beside it came down in a ferocious storm a couple of winters ago taking half of it down too. It does give one a chance to change things. It will change the look of the garden more than you might think, hopefully in a positive way.

  11. Meems, I agree with Susan, you will have lots of sun now, roses love lots of sun. Janis

  12. Hi there... completely off topic (though I am sad about the tree), I read your blog regularly and I have just started blogging myself and wanted to put a link on my blog to yours. Thought I'd give you the heads up, since we haven't officially said 'hi' yet. So, 'hi!'

  13. I'm not a blogger (yet!) but sure enjoy reading others. I'm so sorry about your drake elm, Meems. We're faced with taking down, or not, a 30 foot Chinese Tallow tree, which, of course, is not as nice as an elm, and on the list of nuisance plants. Although a pest tree, it provides shade from the hot western sun and the birds love it. Each winter when the tree loses it leaves, we decide to take it down, but find it so hard to do since it's healthy. We've taken down some majestic oaks in the past that were rotten at the base...that really hurts!
    What to do about the Chinese Tallow?
    I look forward to your new sunny, planting area. What a magnificent garden you have!
    Andrea on the Space Coast of Florida

  14. It's so nice you have the pictures of your elm in healthier times. I know you'll miss it, but more sun is a good thing too.

  15. It's so hard to say goodbye...we have an oak that is bleeding out like that..the tree guys don't cut them big ole oaks down for pennies is on our list as it is right by our house!

  16. What a year of changes your garden and the its dear gardener have experienced. It's a beautiful elm and reminds me of the ones that line the streets in downtown Athens, GA. The lacy bark is fantastic. Your decisions are always well thought out and before long there will be beautiful gifts discovered in this loss...

    I am contemplating taking down a native elm~~It sits in a bed and looks exactly like a telephone pole, but am holding off because it's healthy and a nearby oak appears to be ailing and it may need to come down instead.


  17. We had a big Vine maple fall over. It was a beautiful tree and I had planted all shade plants under it. I had to move everything out until the new Japanese maple got big enough to provide more shade.
    I'm sure it was sad to see your tree go, it was beautiful.

  18. it seems gardening is an ever evolving experience, which requires the gardener to progress with the changes, whether he/she wants to or not. kind of like real life, those adjustments bring us to new depths and realizations within ourselves. you have had your share of challenges in just the short past 30 days.
    since i have spent many a happy family time under that same tree, i too was saddened at the loss of its spot of honor in your yard. but your new open vista from your kitchen window and pool area is quite interesting, and i have the utmost confidence that you will soon envision new projects for this now sunny area. the elm served you and your loved ones well for your initial investment, so no regrets or sadness for now. keep evolving and happy gardening!

  19. NellJean,
    So true.

    Oh, now losing an oak would be heartbreaking. But there were lots of people who did back in 2004 when Florida had so many hurricanes in one year. What did you do about the bees?

    Definitely trying to look at the "bright" side... more sun. thank you.

    Roses? hmmm... you've got me thinking.

    It is hard to lose any trees. Those long-leaf pines are sort of like lightening rods. My next door neighbor has removed almost every single one of theirs. We don't have any directly on our little piece of earth but all of my neighbors do.

    Winter is a good time to plant and to feel. Somehow with all its leaves already missing ... it was an easier transition as far as the view is concerned. Still, it makes a huge change.

    We were told 5 years ago by an arborist that we should take that tree down. I held onto to it as long as possible. It will be missed.

    Drakes ARE fast growers. They are great trees in my opinion. It has served us well. But it is the second one I have removed... another planted at the very same time I took out in 2004. Like I said I wouldn't choose it again due to the weakness of the long stretching limbs. Oaks are far more substantial and live much longer lives.

    My thinking exactly. I didn't like the risk of one of those limbs falling on one of the kiddos or the underplantings.

    Oh, Lisa, I thought of you and your big pines when it was clear how opened up this space has become. I remember well your sadness and seeing that giant thing laying across your garden.

    Oh, I just don't know about roses. They are so finicky... but looking at yours I sure am tempted.

    Hi. So glad you let me know. I'll check it out as soon as I get a spare minute or two. Thank you for the link.

    You might as well go ahead and take the plunge. There are several new Florida bloggers lately... sounds like you will fit right in. Would love to have you join us.

    I'm not familiar with the Chinese Tallow but I wonder at felling a healthy tree??? If it isn't a nuisance to you or the environment I'd vote for keeping it.

    I am contemplating planting another tree close by but will wait to see what the summer sun does in that area before making the decision.

    Nothing about trees ends up being done for pennies... that's for sure. These guys also trimmed back the oaks at the same time so the tree canopy has been raised up another notch... meaning even more sun.

    Oh, Gail,
    I don't envy your having to think about the elm vs. oak and/or losing either of them. In nature they squeeze each other out and fell on their own I suppose... survival of the fittest. It's harder when we are the ones left with making those choices. Time will tell with your situation.

    I'm sorry to hear that... but it is the way it goes in a garden isn't it? We do the best we know to do and still we have to make adjustments and go with nature.

    SG aka Mom,
    It is remarkable the change in the view from the kitchen window. I notice the grandness of the oaks is much more prominent in my view. The other interesting observation is that the birdies that frequent the oaks are easier to see, too. That's a plus. There's more sun shining in than I expected this time of year... which is kind of surprising since all the leaves were off of the tree. Goes to show how even the bare branches were offering cover. I think it is even going to allow more sun to the new berm area. Summer will tell me for sure. Definitely lots of changes.

  20. It was a glorious tree Meems - love the beautiful bark. I'm sorry for its loss. You sure have had your share of upheaval in the garden recently. I'm sure you'll take advantage of the extra light there now - looking forward to seeing what you do with that newly-sunnier spot!

  21. Linda,
    "upheaval" would have been a good post title. :-) Gardening is like that... when plants and trees we love take a turn for the worse we grieve their loss. Then new life emerges and the changes often are not only good but better. You just never know. I don't have any 'big inspiration' for the sunny area yet. I'm going to wait to see how the summer sun affects it... then I'll know for sure what can stand the heat. :-) Always grateful for your encouragement.


Have a blessed day,

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