Saturday, November 17, 2012

Decisions, Decisions

A coupla weeks ago,  a friend of ours called to offer us two (or more) acer pseudosieboldianum x palmatum 'Northern Glow' maples which he had purchased from a nursery in Minnesota.  I'm a nut for Japanese maples, but we've never been successful in overwintering them in the past.  This tree is a cross between a Korean and Japanese maple.   Here is a link to the image:

 'Northern Glow' is supposedly hardy to Zone 4 and was developed by Professor Ed Hasselkus of the UW-Madison Arboretum’s Longenecker Horticultural Gardens fame. Professor Hasselkus visited our humble garden on a bus group tour that stopped here a few years ago.  We were honored and intimidated to meet him in person; he is a legendary gardener and plantsman, just what would he think of our goofy garden?  But I needn't have worried, he was very kind and patient, and answered several questions we had, too.  Any tree he developed has got to be great.

We ended up buying two of the maples from our friend.  Both of them were over six feet tall already.  Then comes the age-old question, where do we plant them?  We have a large garden here with room to spare, but finding 'the' right place for every tree has always been a struggle.  I don't want to construct any new beds and planting trees too close together or in the shade doesn't work, either.  We walked all over the gardens, debating endlessly on this site or another, but really didn't come up with a solution.

Weirdly enough one morning I woke up before dawn and had the answer.  We'll put the trees in front of the barn where they'll be visible from Aaargh.  The only problem?  There are already two trees in front of the barn.   Two big honey locusts, over forty feet tall.  Sigh.

I'm not sure what type of locust the trees were; we bought six of them as teeny, tiny seedlings from a greenhouse when they were less than four inches tall about thirty years ago.  I stuck them in the ground and was amazed by their rapid growth rate.  I was not thrilled, however, with their thorns.  The greenhouse had offered them as thornless, but such was not the case with four of them.  They developed massive thorns, some over three inches long, capable of ripping a person to shreds if you weren't careful.  Those four trees were soon cut down, but the other two we left stand as they were fairly free of spines.  We did like their fine leaves and the filtered shade they provided, but as the trees were getting bigger, we noticed some limbs were crossing each other and all in all, they didn't look to be a sturdy tree.

Still, I get attached to things very easily and these trees were no exception.  We've planted every tree on this ten acres ourselves starting with seedlings, and it's hard to part with them.  Actually, it feels wrong.  I know gardens have to change as they mature, though the process can be painful sometimes.  I still remember Adrian Bloom's comment in one of his gardening books about removing trees when they have outlived their usefulness or beauty.  He said not to look upon planting a tree in an awkward place as a failure, but rather as an opportunity for change; the tree served it's purpose and now it is time for something different.  (Mr. Bloom is far more eloquent; my apologies.) 

I kicked the plan around all day long, weighing the pros and the cons. I wasn't sure what Carl or Joel would think, but when they got home from their respective jobs, I raised the issue.  They both agreed it was a shame to lose the two big trees, but they felt the maples would be a much better fit in their place.  Joel went straight to the garage to sharpen the chainsaw and Carl set off to find chains.

We're impulsive, I'll admit it.  (But being impulsive means I don't have to agonize over making decisions for too long.) 

  Let's do this thing.
Getting dark already.
The trouble with this time of year is the fact it gets dark out way too soon. We didn't get a start on the actual cutting until well after 4PM and sunset is 4:30-ish so we had to fly.   Joel climbed up and limbed the trees as high as he could reach from a ladder while I speedily walked up to Mom's to get the 574.  We always hook up a tractor and chain to any tree we're cutting down for safety reasons, especially when there's a nearby building or anything we don't want squished.
In the picture, you can see the chain on the left-hand side which is attached to my tractor.  Joel makes the notch cut and then proceeds to the back of the tree to make the final cut.  The wedge is knocked out and I slowly tighten the chain to keep some tension on it until the saw has gone all the way through.  If everything works out just right, the tree gets a tug in the right direction and everyone is safe.  Cutting down a tree is dangerous work and we don't take it lightly.    Joel always stops sawing and makes eye contact with me right before he makes the final cut.  Here we go.....heads up!
Wedge is out, time for me to back up slowly and  take the slack out of the chain. 
Timber! and me skedaddling out of the way on the 574.
Once the tree starts to fall, I have to back up a whole lot faster, or end up underneath it.  I'd only get hit by the branches on the end, though, not the trunk, since we had a series of long chains involved.

One down, one to go.
Joel limbed up the downed tree while Carl quickly unhooked the tractor from the first tree and rehooked it to the second one.

Joel repeated the process of sawing the notch and was getting ready to make the final cut.

Tree #2
That's when we ran into a problem.  As I was putting a little tension on the chains, the 574 suddenly stopped running.  It was out of gas.  I hollered as loud as I could to Joel to stop sawing and Carl finally got his attention.  Of course, we had no gas on hand, not one single, solitary drop.  Now what?
I'm way too close to the tree this time and can't back up...
 Darkness was descending and we had a tree 3/4 of the way cut down.  Any little breeze springing up could spell big trouble.  Joel hopped in his car and got our International H out of the machine shed at Mom's while Carl and I unhooked the 574 and readied the chains.  As soon as Joel arrived with the H, we hooked up to the chain on my tractor and pulled the 574 out of the way.  Then we hooked Joel's tractor to the chains on the tree again and finally, we were back in business.

Timber again......and I'm backing the H out of the way in a hurry, too.
Time to breathe again...and pick up brush as Joel saws off limbs.
Though the trees were green, we were able to burn all the brush that night in our campfire ring.  I've been limbing up the dead branches on the pine trees in Back Eight for a few weeks and have oodles of kindling to start a hot fire with. 
Dead twigs

We've been trying to clear out the white pines so we can walk through the woods more easily.
We have to thin more of the white pines every year as they are much too close together.  Again, this is a melancholy chore for us; I wish we had been able to transplant more of these trees before they grew so large, but we ran out of time.   We've been making plans to plant some more trees next spring, though, to replace the ones we have to cut down.

The glow of the campfire lit up the Quarry Hill.  Can you see the Big Dipper?
We spent a late night burning the rest of the brush from the two locust trees and cooked supper over the embers.  Yes, there's regrets around here for cutting down trees, but there's always hope for the future, too.

Time will tell if we made the right choice.


FlowerLady said...

Glad the tree felling went well. Three inch thorns doesn't sound nice at all. I hope your new trees do very well in this area.

I LOVE that last photo with the big dipper and the firelight lit gardens. That is fantastic!!!!! I realized that you've made it your header picture also.

If I don't chat with you again before the holiday, have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Hugs ~ FlowerLady

El Gaucho said...

Excellent job of storytelling - night upon you, a tree mostly cut and ready to fall, tractor tank dry, and not a drop of gas to be found! I was actually a bit nervous to find out what the resolution would be, very good job of building tension in the story.

And the new photo of the fire-lit garden is very neat indeed. Well done.

Pam's English Garden said...

Hello Karen, You do take on some major projects -- we would have called in a tree company (if we had the money, that is.) I have locusts trees and they are my least favorite -- hate those thorns. I look forward to seeing your new trees in place. P. x

Junebug said...

Glad the trees fell where they were suppose too. I always enjoy tree falling but from a distance not having to run out of the way. I'm sure you new trees will look beautiful.

I'm chuckling for you yard work never ends!! Take care dear one!

Alison said...

I definitely think you made the right choice! Japanese maples will look wonderful there in front of the red barn, much more in keeping in terms of size. Those locust trees were way too tall.

I'm so glad you managed to get them down without any mishap. Running out of gas right at the crucial moment must have been scary.

You guys are a little bit crazy, aren't you? I love your impulsive decisions, and the fact that you get right on it immediately once you decide.

Meeting the man who hybridized the Japanese maples must have been quite a treat, it's a good thing he turned out to be a nice guy.

Once again, you have told and illustrated a good story, you missed your calling, you should have been a writer. I actually gasped when I saw your new header photo. What an amazing picture!

Karen said...

Lorraine, I hope you and DH have a happy Thanksgiving, too!

El Gaucho, our newest lesson is: always have a full tank.

Pam, thank you for making me feel better about losing the locusts. The new trees do look ok, but they sure are short, lol. In time they'll grow, right?

Hi June, yes, I have to learn to run faster whenever the chainsaw is in use, lol.

Alison, thank you. Yes, we are an impulsive lot here, but I wish I could be as impulsive when it comes to house cleaning, lol.

Tufa Girl said...

Too bad Shawn was not there to help. He had become quite the tree dropper as we had a tree cutting party at our home back in New Braunfels. We had hackberry trees that were easily 60-70 feet tall. He had a friend (Sam) from work that has some wooded land in east Texas taught Shawn how to cut trees. In exchange we provided the dinner for all who volunteered. I never knew all you had to do is say "chainsaw" and "steak" and so many "boys" would come ready to work.

Tufa Girl said...

BTW - catching up on my reading Ernie is beautiful with his new grapevine decor.

HolleyGarden said...

Love the picture of the campfire lighting everything up! What a beautiful shot. I think the Japanese maples there will be gorgeous. I need to remember this post - most times I am reluctant to take down something that has been growing somewhere for a while, even if something else would be better there. I am amazed at all the hard work you do!

Shirley said...

I would take a maple over a honey locust easily, especially considering the 3-inch thorns! I hope you will be happy with this decision in the long run. I love the last photo with the big dipper! It's amazingly clear!

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Kalantikan said...

You are all very professional in doing those things, but i smiled when you ran out of gas! haha! The photo with the campfire is so beautiful, but isn't there a way to just dump those leaves in a lot and let them decompose naturally, that is to lessen the CO2 from burning, helping our atmosphere!