Friday, June 24, 2016

Tying Up Loose Ends

"Never buy another tree with 'weeping' in the name," Carl always grumbles.

Do I listen?


Carl and I decided to start planting dwarf conifers a decade ago so we could grow old gracefully with our horticultural monstrosity.  The other reason is because living here in a snow globe for most of the year, and elusive 'Winter Interest' plantings are far and few between unless you plant an evergreen or two hundred.  Everything else winter interest-y gets buried in snowbanks.

I had a couple from Hawaii stop in a few weeks ago.   I know, go figure, Hawaii?  Who would ever have thought this old rock pile of ours would interest people who grew up in a tropical botanical wonderland?  I felt silly showing them around, I mean, really, what could we have here which would even remotely interest them?

"Things are so green here," the kind lady said, "Is it green like this all year round?"

"No, you came at the right time of year to see green, for most of the year, it's white."

"Oh, yes, I forgot, you get snow.    Looking at the garden now, it's hard to believe things can change so much."

As someone who has always lived in Wisconsin, I'd never given the changing seasons that much thought, though I should.  The transformation in a few weeks time is miraculous.  Like far too many things in my life, much is taken for granted.   I vow every year I'll savor the all-too-fleeting crabapple blooms, but in a matter of days the petals are sifting through the branches to carpet the lawn.  And in matter of a few months the first snowflakes will follow their path.

Our main reason for planting dwarf conifers was for winter interest.  And the other reason is though sold as 'dwarf' they will grow faster than you think and hog up a lot of real estate in the garden which makes maintenance a little easier.  That is, if you planned ahead and planted them in areas where they can develop into specimens unencumbered by their proximity to buildings and each other.  If like us, you failed to see how a cute little itty-bitty six inch tall tree labeled as dwarf could ever expand into a twenty foot tall tree, than you'll find yourself moving and digging or pruning and chainsawing.  A lot.  (Sort of like bringing home a puppy sold as a Teacup Poodle and growing up to be a Great Dane.  But they're so cute when they're little...)

After many years of trial and error (and chainsaws) we now view any new tree or shrub addition to the garden with skeptical optimism.  We both love dwarf conifers, but before we go nuts and buy another impossibly cool tree we must ask ourselves the all-important question:

Where will we plant it?

You'd think there would be room in a two and a half acre garden for everything, but there isn't.   As is the way of things, many of our Colorado blue spruce planted from teeny little things are now overgrown, losing their bottom branches or already history, and it only took thirty years.

 The way it began, 1978.  Nary a tree in sight.  But let two young and foolish gardeners loose and in a few years......

 After planting over five hundred trees, by the 1990's, the house wasn't in sight.
There's a house in there somewhere.  (Hint: on the right side of the picture you can see a window.)

 Hey, we were young and didn't know any better. 

 The Formal Garden in one of it's many incarnations B.D.   (Before Dome)
Formal Garden AD  (After Dome)

There's no speculation now as to why we own three chainsaws.  The reason is abundantly clear, we've got a bit of a problem when it comes to planting trees.  

Chainsaws weren't always the last resort though: 


You can put your nine year old son to work digging out trees to be moved.  Yes, that's Joel circa 1990's, digging out a cedar with a shovel.  He has always been industrious, and still is.  (I'm happy to report both boy and tree survived this cruel and inhumane treatment.)

Eventually we discovered a conifer with a very narrow footprint:  picea Abies 'Pendula'  aka Weeping Norway Spruce. If you don't want your weeping spruce trees to end up splayed on the ground like a melted candle, you have to tie up the leader (tippy-top branch) every year to encourage vertical growth.  That fact doesn't seem like a big deal when the tree is small, it's easy to stake the top then.   But every year the trees grow at least six inches in height.  Soon you find need of a ladder.  

Soon the ladder isn't high enough.  

We got around to the staking chore a little later than we should have this year and the new growth was almost entirely hardened off, making it very risky to bend into an upright position without breaking the leader off entirely.

The most risky part is getting to the top of the trees to tie up the leader, two of them are already a good fifteen feet tall.  On Tuesday after work, Carl and I grabbed the ladder and off we went to do battle with the leaders on our three weeping Norway spruce trees.

 First Carl had to find the wooden pole we carefully tie to the trunk of the tree and raise it up to be a little taller than the leader we want to form the next trunk. 

 (We use strips of cloth to tie the leader up with instead of wire.  I've made the mistake of leaving wire on a tree in the past only to have the tree expand and the wire becomes embedded in the trunk.  Not a good thing.)

 The reason we leave the stick so long on top of the weeping trees is to discourage birds from breaking off the leaders.  Birds like to perch on the highest point, but the new growth is not strong enough to support their weight and often results in the loss of the leader. 

 In the photo below, Carl and I are seen in shadowy silhouette tying up the leader on the Norway planted on the hill.  I stood on the bottom rungs of the ladder for stabilization while Carl climbed to the tippy top. 

 We moved on to tying up the last tree and realized something:
The trees are getting taller, our ladders are getting shorter and we're getting older. 

"I guess we're done with this one, it will have to weep from now on," Carl said ruefully.

"Oh well, we knew the day was coming when they'd outgrow us," I said.  "It will be interesting to see what shape it takes on from now on."

We put the ladder back in the garage and went back to weeding.

However, the next day Joel stopped home for a visit and ended up sucked into our perpetual vortex of work.  We were talking about the trees and I told him we were lucky to get two of the three tied up, but the third is on it's own unless we buy a manlift.  (Wouldn't that be fun!)  

In years past, we have used the bucket on the H to lift Joel up to the top, but this year the H developed a flat tire.   And then Carl's 1987 car developed a loss of brakes which meant Carl is driving my car to work.  I never got around to taking the tractor tire in for repairs because I didn't have a car and when Carl got home from work we often forgot all about the tire until we needed the tractor.  Vicious circles, indeed.

Joel is not one to be defeated.  Off he went to town with the tractor tire to have it repaired.  Back home to my mother's house and the tractor shed to put it back on.   Soon he was coming down the road with the tractor.  Joel lifted the bucket as high as it would go and then climbed up to the top. 

The tree was still just out of his reach, but luckily the trunk bends a bit.

After several potential leaders broke off, he was able to secure the last one.  Success for one more year!  

Here's some views from Joel's perch on top of the tractor bucket:

 (Yes, that's me, doing my best supervisor impression.)

 And there's the top of the tree, staked one more year------

 thanks to Joel, our fearless climber of tractors.




FlowerLady Lorraine said...

What a great story! Love that picture of Joel at the end.

Happy Summer Gardening dear Karen ~ FlowerLady

Karen said...

Thank you Rainey. That is one of my favorite pictures of Joel as a little boy.

Donna@GWGT said...

I enjoy your nostalgic posts showing the property in the beginning and then how it came about. I always thought staking Abies 'Pendula' was due to how slender a plant in snow country it is and never thought of the leader being broken by birds. Good to know. I always have them planted in groups, but it looks great as a specimen tree. I agree with you weeping trees look wonderful in winter. They add a lot of winter interest to the landscape.

Karen said...

Donna, we've finally gotten around to buying yet another weeping spruce, this time Picea Glauca 'Pendula' which supposedly doesn't need staking. We've got four of them planted in various places in the garden, I look forward to seeing them develop into maturity. Love the narrow footprint.

Peonies & Magnolias said...

Love your stories and it's awesome to see the before pictures and what it has evolved into - Gorgeous & Awesome!!!

Have a great week.


Karen said...

Thank you, Sandy!

outlawgardener said...

I hope you appreciate what a thing of beauty, a treasure you've created in your amazing showplace of a garden. An awesome transformation! Sweet picture of little Joel! I love seeing views of your glorious garden. Thank you for sharing the joy of your creation with your readers!

Carol said...

I keep showing your blog to my husband who says "Nice! Now don't get ideas we're too old !" :( What happened to the adventuresome spirit that used to be so strong ?
I love visiting your blog and gardens and your stories are always fascinating! Now I'm putting on the rain boots and heading out to watch it rain on our tiny plot :)

Indie said...

Your garden looks amazing! How much work you've done over the years (and it looks so much better and more interesting than that bare field). I can't believe how big some of your trees that you've planted are. I've never lived in a place long enough to see my garden get mature, so it is very hard to imagine how big trees and shrubs are going to get.

Sue said...

Karen-so good to have you back on my blog roll--I lost my list a few years back and have struggled to get them all back. I thought of your lovely garden often, but could not for the life of me remember the name! And then today you appeared at my blog. THANK YOU!
I've missed your posts....and that lovely garden.
I really liked seeing the transformation of your property. Wow--you don't really relaize the extent of all your hard labors until you see the original photo of the property. WOW! Amazing lifetime of hard work. And you guys really had "vision". I can't look at a blank slate (empty property) and envision a full yard like that. Amazing.
Well, enough of the novel, thanks again !

Carol said...

Well I could have sworn that I posted on here last week but I don't see. I loved seeing the before and after shots of your land. The in between shots of all of you working on the trees are great too. Leave it to Joel to get things back under control. You'll have to let us know how the 4 new weeping trees do. :)

Betsy said...

Your garden is so gorgeous. A showplace for sure.
That picture of Joel digging out that tree, a kodak moment and in a frame it would go. love it!
Wonderful story and so much work with tons of love because it is a magnificent garden showplace. Great picture of you too.

Beth @ PlantPostings said...

Oh my, I'm glad Joel was OK. He's certainly brave! Thanks for the historical photos--they give perspective to the amazing property you've created over time!!