Jewelry Monday, Mar 3 2014 

Taking a break from Grey and Cold here (and yes, I know it is slightly out of focus!):

Cercis canadensis (Eastern Redbud) branches seen from above.  It blooms in May and the flower buds occur all along branches, and sometimes even on very old trunks.

An extremely tough tree, native to eastern North America (there are related species elsewhere in both North and Central America, Asia, and Europe). The seed pods, which look like snow peas, are a winter food for chickadees, woodpeckers, and other tough little over-wintering birds.  The wood and bark is very fibrous and it is relatively resistant to rot, allowing it survive breaks/tears caused by storm damage, which is good because it tears easily.

The little blue flower in the lawn below is gill-over-the-ground, also known as ground ivy, it accounts for most of the east lawn.

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The Ginkgo Tree Tuesday, Feb 25 2014 

The big one that is, as opposed to the other one, which isn’t small but is smaller.

Here it is in 1905-1910* on the right hand side of the picture, standing out nicely against the dark conifers behind it.  You can see that it already has a very upright growth pattern rather than a spreading one.  I believe that it was planted in 1893-94, when the north end of the house was completed.  WWE and family were, at the time, living in New York City. The ginkgo was a commonly planted tree in Central Park and along the streets; to stretch for meaning a bit, it was a tree that signified a modern and cosmopolitan culture along with an interest in exotic botany.  I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it was the first ginkgo planted in the town, though how I’d go about finding that out…


Here it is in 2013, the size has changed, but the growth pattern has not:



*I have an exact date, but like an idiot I didn’t put it into the computer…


Winter trees Wednesday, Feb 5 2014 


It isn’t a perfect job, or even close, but since I simply cut and pasted in wordpress rather than any stitching tools, not too bad 🙂

Just playing around, and how does one take a complete photo of a tree that is over 100 feet tall when one is close to it?

Not a nightmare Monday, Jan 27 2014 

Though, it would probably be a bit spooky if it loomed unexpectedly out of a dark night.  It actually is the root bole of a black locust.  It fell over two decades ago; the wood is still very solid, sufficiently so that I would not recommend falling against any of those points.  I have a fondness for black locust trees.  They are massive, slightly gothic, often picturesque trees.*  Some people dislike them, arguing that they aren’t native to New England.  They are, however, native to Pennsylvania and points south; so the whole ‘not native’ complaint is somewhat tenuous given the similar climate and short distance between the Appalachians and the Berkshires.  More to the point, it is a valuable timber, firewood, and nectar (for honey) tree.


*we have the third largest black locust in the state.

Tree pruning Saturday, Jan 18 2014 

I enjoy it.  Well, most of the time.  I enjoy the challenge of making the decision, that slow guessing game of what a cut here and now will do ten years from now.  Some trees a pretty forgiving, apples for example, either because they grow fast or because they have plenty of dormant buds.  Others are a challenge.  Maples, for example, slow growing and unwilling to change direction.  The saying measure twice, cut once?  More like, look four times, check again, then cut.  You can’t glue it back on.  And while trees grow, an unwanted hole is still an unwanted hole. 

The goal, in my view, is to end with a pruned tree that doesn’t look pruned.  I think we did pretty well on the red maple next to the drive.  It had to have a major branch taken off, being much too low and heading across the drive.  And, of course, some other judicious pruning for balance.  Just about every other year we have been limbing it up.  Eventually it will have to branch off at about 25 feet to clear the house and drive as a fully mature tree.  It is always better to cut the branches when they are smaller.  In this case, the limb ought to have come off last year, honestly.  You can see the scar, a four inch wide mark on the trunk, but that will heal within a year or two.  What you don’t see is a hole or an unbalanced tree.  Just a young red maple growing upwards with a nice open set of limbs.  And the drive isn’t closed in either….much to the relief of the trucks I am sure!

Creak… Saturday, Jan 11 2014 

Nothing makes one’s ears perk up as well as walking through the woods (in this case the Rabbit Hole’s stand of Norway Spruce/Pine/Maple) on a windless, warm day and hearing an ominous popping creak from high above.  It might be the massive double trunk White Pine near the drive, it has several pieces of climbing Euonymous jammed in the crotch of the trunk and consequently it sometimes makes some very odd noises, even on a day with essentially no wind.*  It might be an innocuous branch rubbing somewhere; it might be a tree reacting to the changing temperature.  Or it might be gravity asserting itself.  It is the sort of noise that is very hard to get a solid directional fix on, you’re doing well to pin it down to about 90 degrees.

You can’t go and visually inspect all those trees, not when there are well over a dozen Norway Spruces and Pines standing at between 80 and 110 feet in height.  Besides in my experience, you can never tell.  The White Pine on the North Lawn all those years ago was a lovely example: a perfectly fine, fully mature pine when I walked past on a day with light wind; fifteen minutes later and it had snapped like a toothpick.  On the other hand, there is an ash that is busy defying physics: it has a spiral crack so large that a child could hide in the hollow of the trunk and on windy days you can see the crack shifting.  It has been that way for about five years and two hurricanes.

If it is something…well, we will KNOW about it one of these days!

*even 5mph wind is enough to get a little bit of sway at the top, which is just enough to get it to rub.

If a tree falls in a forest… Saturday, Dec 28 2013 

The woods, of course, are far from silent.  Even in a snow storm there is noise: snowflakes falling through the branches with the faintest rasp of ice.  Frozen solid, the crack of a tree yielding to the cold will sound like a light rifle.  On an ordinary day, there is the chatter of squirrels, birds, rustling leaves, maybe even insects, water, a multitude.  But what is wonderful about the forest is that this symphony has nothing, nothing to do with man.  It will go on whether we listen or not.  We can deafen ourselves to it, we have for the most part done so already.  However, we can not silence it.

If a tree falls in a forest, the forest hears.  It could care less if we hear it.  We would do well to remember that.

December Ice Monday, Dec 9 2013 

Contrary to the expected, December around here tends more towards ice than snow.  This year, the long spell of close/below freezing has meant that our current winter weather is rather mild: it started as snow and is now sort of drizzle.

Other years, however, it comes as ice.  That ice can be pretty is in no way a redeeming feature.  It tends to prune trees in an unfortunate manner. Most of the native trees can adapt, hemlock and spruce simply droop, white pine unfortunately tends to drop branches, usually snapping off a few feet out from the main trunk.*  This doesn’t bother the tree, but people don’t care for it. Birches bend, until they don’t of course.  Oaks and Maples stand tall, unless they are unbalanced due to a combination of factors (unbalanced rapid growth, saturated ground, wind, etc.); they usually don’t drop branches in ice storms however.**  The truly vulnerable trees are the non-native ornamental ones which often have many narrowly branched limbs, such as Japanese Maples; sadly those tend to tear off at the trunk, making for a difficult pruning job afterwards.

This shows a light ice-load on the trees east of the house, you can see how the Norway Spruces in the background (which normally would be touching) have turned into individual ‘cones’ as the branches are weighed down.  The closest trees are pines, and you can just tell that the main branches do not flex at all, only the smaller branches under a few inches in diameter.  The Maples in the midground have not changed shape at all.


*Mature white pines, that is, the 70 ft plus monsters, such as the ones in the photo.  The limbs simply fracture, if you look at them afterwards there is very little tearing in the way you see on maple or ash.

**Look, All Trees can and do drop things in storms (don’t go dancing around in the woods without paying attention to what is above you!)

Balanced trees are important, some trees are more tolerant than others and can carry an uneven load: as is shown by this River Birch, which is quite one-sided, but it capable of bending in the main trunk:


However, there is always a possibility that they can carry the uneven load until they don’t: this double trunk Red Oak was about sixty years old, perfectly healthy.  It simply grew a bit too much due to the other side of the road being cleared two years previously, giving it much more light.  As you can see, there were no branches on the side facing away from the road.  Ice plus saturated ground plus a year of abundant extra growth and…thud.  (this was several years ago, the trees have since been aggressively pruned by the DOT)*


*Murphy’s Law being what it is, there was a car going past at the time.  The driver was fine, the car not so much.


Golden Rain or Gingkos Monday, Nov 4 2013 

We have two Gingkos, one about 120 years old and one about fifty.  Thankfully, both are males, so no fruit.  They are lovely trees, though the young one is too big for its space.  They are quite hardy in this area, but they have some quirks….  In the fall, if the temperature drops to a certain point, they drop ALL their leaves ALL at once (as in less than eight hours).  It doesn’t matter if they are still green or have turned gold, they will drop.

As it turns out, it would seem that 25 F is that temperature.  At least, yesterday both had essentially all their leaves.  Last night hit 25 F; this morning there was a gentle, steady patter of falling leaves.  By noon they were bare and the ground was carpeted several inches deep in leaves.  This year about eighty percent had turned, so it is a mostly gold carpet; but they are still a bit green and a bit soggy.  I will pick them up tomorrow.

The other quirk is that gingko leaves do not decompose easily.  Fallen leaves, if they have turned gold and dried out, can last several years in dry shade.  They are hydrophobic, even in a watered compost pile, they will form clumps that are literally bone dry despite being surrounded by soggy material.  If they are green when they fall, they will decompose…..much like banana peels will…. (i.e. suffocating slime) this is not desirable!  We pick them up, separated from the other leaves and create a pile which just sort of sits there.  We try to pick up only about half of the oak/maple/magnolia/beech leaves, leaving the rest as mulch; but we try to collect essentially all of the gingko leaves.

American Beech Tuesday, Oct 22 2013 


It took its time getting established, but it is now growing steadily, at about seven feet tall (when planted it was shorter than the stakes).  They Hate being transplanted and they Hate any sort of chem-lawn environment, which is why one never sees them in suburbia.  It is just opposite the big bay windows, and at this time of year looks like a metal sculpture, all bronze, silver, and gold.  The red maple to the right has yet to turn color this year.

(and why the formidable old style t-post stakes? Because the drive is right there in the shadow of the house, and people are utterly incapable of staying Off the lawn)

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