Labor Day was the perfect day to plant our two new sugar maples. We planted two of them last fall, but for some reason they both died. We speculate that the holes weren’t big enough, the soil was too hard, or we shouldn’t have unwrapped the root ball (although we did for our 30 white pines, and they were all fine), but whatever the reason, we had to get new ones.
My brother Nathaniel helped by lending his truck, mini-excavator, and time on his day off! We picked up the trees, took out the dead ones which had developed no root system, meaning they died shortly after we planted them, and planted the new, bigger trees. We hope that with these bigger trees, digging bigger holes to loosen up the soil, and taking the advice of the garden center by leaving the wire on the root ball and slashing the burlap, that these trees will make it through the winter and we’ll see leaves next spring.
Today reminded me of a chapter in Michael Pollan’s Second Nature, which is the wonderful story of Pollan’s gardening adventures in Connecticut and throughout his life. While many people prefer his more recent books, I’m a big fan of this one because his stories are similar to my own, he’s gardening in my home state, and I can relate to moving to a new place and making your own mark with your gardens. While Pollan started with an old farm, I have a blank slate, piece of my great-grandparents farm. This book was a great read to make me think about what kind of gardens I wanted, and I would suggest it to anyone who lives in my area or is new to gardening.
Regarding planting a tree on his property, Pollan writes:
A great tree changes the look of the landscape, of course and not only from a distance; it shapes space in the third dimension, too. An old sugar maple–that was the tree I had in mind–sponsors a distinct kind of light and air around itself. Its shade is dense, but always sweet, I think, and never oppressive. The space that a maple articulates seems particularly hospitable to people–it’s an intimate, almost domestic space, more imposing. No matter how large it grows, a maple never drops its tie to the human scale; a few of its boughs invariably reach down to us so that we may climb up into them, if only in our imaginations. Maples suggest haven. They always look comfortable next to houses, in summer gathering the cool air close around them and then ushering it toward open windows.
A single great tree can make a kind of garden, an entirely new place on the land, and in my mind I was already visiting the place my maple made, resting in its shade. I knew it wouldn’t happen overnight, probably not even in my lifetime, but wasn’t that precisely the point? To embark on a project that would outlast me, to plant a tree whose crown would never shade me but my children or, more likely, the children of strangers? Tree planting is always a utopian enterprise, it seems to me, a wager on a future the planter doesn’t necessarily expect to witness…
‘To plant trees,’ Russell Page wrote in his memoir, ‘is to give body and life to one’s dreams of a better world.’