The field before excavation
When we built our little house in the middle of an alfalfa field in 1978, we were barely 20 years old. The landscaping continues to evolve over the years, sometimes for the better, but we've made our share of mistakes. If we would have known then what we know now, we could have saved ourselves a lot of work over the last 32 years, especially when it comes to tree planting. Hindsight is always 20/20.
We needed some sort of trees around the house, that much was apparent! Carl's parents had also built a home around the same time we did, and had purchased a few thousand trees. They offered us 500 mixed evergreen seedlings containing Colorado blue, white and Black Hills spruces and red, white and Scotch pines. We planted these trees in 1988 on our then one acre, which expanded to two+ acres in 1990. They also offered us three Colorado Blue spruce from their old home which were about 3' tall. These three bigger trees were planted in front of the house. Mistake #1.
Quoting Michael Dirr from his excellent book, the Manual of Woody Landscape Plants, in regards to Colorado Blue Spruce or (correctly Picea pungens) he states: "Overused; popular as a specimen but hard to combine well with other plants; can be used in groupings; one of the standard practices in past years has been the use of this plant in the front yard where it immediately detracts from the rest of the landscape."
No truer words were ever spoken. Ok, where was Mr. Dirr's book when we needed it? ( I see the 5th edition of Dirr's book came out in 1998--years after we committed the botanical faux pas.)
There it is, Little House on the Prairie-ish, not a tree in sight.
My parents had a fair-sized flowering crabapple in their yard which they donated to our treeless cause. My father, pictured below, was not a patient man when it came to tree moving. We had gone to my parents to try and dig the tree by hand without much luck. While we were eating supper that evening, my father decided to take matters into his own hands and, attaching a chain around the trunk of the tree and one to his tractor's bucket, he yanked the poor crab out by it's roots, effectively scarring the tree trunk, too. He arrived at our house with the tree dangling from the tractor's bucket, swaying to and fro from a chain with a few roots intact. Never let it be said that a flowering crab is not a tough tree, because it lived through this! (The apple is on Dad's left side, the spruce from Carl's parents is in the middle and the birch which Dad dug up from our fenceline is on the right.)
Ok, a 'bit' enhanced blue spruce!
So, time went on and the trees began to grow.
To add to the mistakes, we planted some elm trees (the one on the left) and allowed a cottonwood (on the right) to grow in the ditch by the driveway, too. The Town had a real problem with the cottonwood, so we removed it. It was too close to the road. The elm, of course, succumbed to Dutch Elm Disease after about 15 years, time which could have been put to use growing a nice specimen oak or something else. But we were young, broke, and landscaped-challenged and a free tree sounded good, right? This picture was taken in 1985.
The trees haven't grown too much yet, and it's not all that bad-looking, really. Now we will fast forward to 1992, and some much bigger trees:
The spruce trees actually look pretty good at this point.
But you can see what Dirr means about 'detracting from the rest of the landscape' even in this early picture.
Some more time passed, and wait a minute, where's the house?
You can barely make out our front window on the right side of this picture.
This was the flowerbed right in front of the house, very dark and dingy, though good for growing hostas.
The house is becoming overgrown; the panels on the front porch were our greenhouse for a time (remember I mentioned the front porch greenhouse in an earlier post?)
Once we realized we were 'treed in' we decided to remove the bottom limbs on the two spruce trees in front of the house. This added a little more light again. I think this picture was taken in the late 1990's, about twenty years after the house was built.
The next installment of this series will show 'the rest of the story'.