February 15, 2013

Buying Trees

My winter catalog orders are in -- a few annual seeds to sow inside soon, and some perennial plants to be shipped in early May when I can plant them.

So now I can get down to my real pleasure: buying trees. Out comes the Dirr's doorstop to pore through.

I don't know why tree planting is so satisfying to me, but my dream would be to live in an arboretum. I'm on my way to creating a small tree museum here.

There is not much room left to expand my arboretum or extend my mini-forest. I have planted the back hill too thickly with native maples and pin oaks and swamp white oaks and black gums and persimmons and sweetgums and tuliptrees. The saplings are all gaining size and growing into each other the way a natural forest would.

My sassafras stand is taking hold out in the meadow, finally. In the yard specimen trees like a pagoda dogwood, a sourwood, a redbud, magnolias, stewartias, two cornelian cherries, some tree-form blackhaw viburnums are all getting taller than me, and the maples and spruces and birches are now quite big. But I want to plant more.

What's on my shopping list so far this year?

Ostrya virginiana.  It's called hophornbeam. A native shade tree, with interesting hop-like seedpods that dangle and flutter. I saw one on a walk in our local reservoir a few years ago, and it was enchanting. I want to plant one for those pretty hop flowers. The habit is kind of coarse and large, so it will go in the meadow.
Hophornbeam From New England Wildflower Society - Plant profile

Carpinus caroliniana. This is called blue beech, or musclewood for its smooth gray sinewy looking bark. It's another native. I'm going to plant three in a small grove (I don't have much room; a grove can only be three trees big). It's another native, a smallish tree that grows in the shady understory.
Blue beech, or Musclewood From Missouri Botanical - Plant profile

Parrotia persica 'Vanessa'. This is a cultivar, and it is not a native, but it is a stunner. 'Vanessa' is narrow, although not really fastigate, and I think I can get it in next to another tree in the front part of my yard. It has beautiful form, clean leaves, and gorgeous fall color. A real specimen.
Parrotia persica 'Vanessa' From Learn2Grow - Plant profile

I don't plant trees to save the planet. It simply makes me happy in a way that flower gardening does not, so I keep doing it.

I will never enjoy the real reward. As a gardener in my mid 60s, I will be gone from this little arboretum when the trees I plant reach maturity. I will not sit under their shade or be able to hang a swing from their lowest branches. I will not see them at their best.

Someone else will live in this house and curse the fact that there is too much shade, that there are too many weird kinds of trees, and that the damn sweetgum drops its spiky fruits in the yard.

My reward instead is imagining how this will all look in the future. And I do get a more immediate pleasure from seeing spindly container plants grow into saplings.

Some of the original trees I started planting seven years ago are actually medium sized young trees now. Some screen the view beyond as intended, some are already flowering in their youth, and some are looking graceful in the way they will eventually at maturity.

That's good, and that's all I ask right now.



My sources for small container-grown trees that I can plant myself:

Broken Arrow Nursery in Hamden, CT - a specialty nursery 40 minutes from my house. Interesting selections of woody plants, great propagation program, knowledgeable staff. They publish their retail inventory online, so I can shop for exactly what I want before I get there.

Silver Spring Nursery in Bloomfield, CT - a small, local nursery that is a hidden gem right here in town. Kevin Wilcox, the owner, is an expert in woody plants, propagates most of his inventory and can usually locate a specific plant even if his small nursery does not have it.

Forestfarm Online Nursery in Oregon -  very comprehensive inventory of mail order plants, especially trees and shrubs. Shipping is costly, but the plants arrive in excellent shape and the selection is great. I have had some zone transplant difficulties (they are in the Pacific NW, and I am planting in New England), but most survive. Their catalog is no frills, no pictures, nothing glossy, just endless pages of plant descriptions!

36 comments:

  1. Your Dirr Encyclopedia image reminds me that, years ago, in Georgia, Michael gave me my first buckeye, for which I am eternally grateful. Your point about not being around to see trees at their best goes to show that so much of gardening is the doing and planting and doing some more. Not necessarily in the enjoyment way down the road.

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    1. Lee, how great to have a plant from Michael Dirr! You're right about the planting and doing (and imagining) -- that's the true reward, not the eventual look of these trees decades from now.

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  2. The hop hornbeam and blue beech are also on my list. This year is the year to buy shrubs to create privacy between us and the brand new enormous home next door. The photos of those trees look great, beautiful specimens.

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    1. Patty, I'm pleased to hear from another tree buyer --- love it! I'll have to see how you do growing hop hornbeam and blue beech, so I hope there will be posts if you put these two trees in your garden.

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  3. I love all your trees! About five years ago I found a spindly "tree" about the size of a pencil growing in the flower bed. I dug it up and moved it to the vege garden. Eventually I moved it into the back yard and now it's about ten feet tall. Come to find out it's a Sweetgum. I named "him" Forrest Gum. Several people have told me I should remove Forrest Gum because of his fruit, but I refuse. It's been amazing watching him grow into a beautiful tree!

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    1. Christy, what a wonderful experience discovering Forrest Gum. I chuckled. It is so much fun to rescue something, then learn what it is and watch it thrive. I nurtured a wild sapling for a couple years only to find out it was a horribly invasive ailanthus tree and it needed to be eradicated! I like your story better.

      Don't worry about Forrest's gumballs. The tree won't fruit for many years yet, so it might be someone else's problem by then. You can enjoy your rescue tree til then.

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  4. It's too true, trees are planted for the future, no instant gratification. I wish I'd known how much I loved trees when I was younger, I wouldn't started planting them then :)

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    1. Rosemary, the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago!

      : )

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  5. Your mini-forest sounds wonderful. I would give my right arm for a hophornbeam and a musclewood, or rather, for the extra space to plant them in.

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    1. Jason, space is the one thing I can't seem to grow more of!

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  6. I'm thinking that the Vanessa is my favorite! What a lovely tree! I think that your arboretum is wonderful as well as your love for trees!!! It is fun to watch the progression of your work!!!

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    1. Nicole, Thanks so much! Vanessa is such a shapely tree. I have to plant things that will stay narrow, I don't really have room for wide spreading forest trees, and this parrotia seems just right.

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  7. The first thing that came to my mind is...where did she get them? I am so glad you posted your sources. I would love to have an ironwood tree in my garden. I fell in love with one while out on a 'winter tree id' walk. It has such interesting bark. I kept wanting to touch it to feel those "muscles". I love all of your choices. If I had a little more property I would sure be planting more. I might anyway.

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    1. Lisa, I've seen the ironwood / musclewood in forest settings and the bark really is interesting. I hope it looks like that when I get mine planted.

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  8. Hophornbeam is on my want list too. There are lots of musclewoods growing wild on our farm and they are wonderful trees.

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    1. Sweetbay, I love the naturalistic look of the musclewoods growing wild. I hope I can achieve the same effect with my grove of three!

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  9. I have a musclewood tree, courtesy of Mother Nature! It was one of the native trees left by the builder. It's growing about 8 inches away from a large cedar and if you could see how I've had to prune it to allow it to stay in its spot, you'd be horrified but Dr Seuss would be proud. Fortunately, you can't tell it's been pruned weird unless you really looked hard because it blends right in.

    It does self seed prolifically. I pull out seedlings by the HUNDREDS every spring. Have you ever thought of a styrax? They seem perfect for your patio area.

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    1. Tammy, so funny, just this afternoon I was researching styrax for a spot next to my gravel seating area. ESP : )

      I did see a lovely blooming styrax at Wave Hill Garden in NYC last year and knew I would want one. I may in fact add that to my shopping list.

      I didn't know the musclewood trees self seed like that, but it makes sense as I see them in groves in the wild. I wonder if mine will do the same up here -- although there is no room to let that happen. Your Dr. Seuss-pruned musclewood must be a treat to see!

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  10. Oh and by the way, I just spent some time on your plant inventory. Very helpful and informative information you have there. It has helped me make some decisions for the spring! Thank you for sharing that on your blog!

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    1. Nicole, thanks! The Inventory started as just a way to keep track of what I planted and when, but it got a little obsessive : )

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  11. I love Broken Arrow. Have you ever ordered anything from Fairweather Gardens in NJ? They ship good sized healthy plants and tend to have a few unusual things including a large selection of Magnolias. I used to order from them frequently but now it seems Broken Arrow often has the same plants and I prefer to buy local. In fact I am considering one tree this year-a variegated Cornus kousa 'Akatsuki'. It's available at both Fairweather and BAN.

    For now I think I'm maxed out on trees (except for the Cornus of course :)) unless I remove the Sycamore in the front yard. Last year I had to take out a Cercis 'Forest Pansy' because it just up and died and a Styrax that just didn't wow me. Both were also in the front yard. I didn't realize how much shade they were creating until I saw how much better the plants that were left started to look.

    I had to laugh when you said the some future owner of your home will be cursing you. I always tell people that someday someone will be cursing me as they fire up the chain saw.

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    1. Sue, Good to know about Fairweather --- you are the second person this month who has brought them to my attention. I haven't shopped them before. One of the things I like about Broken Arrow is that they have a full catalog of their retail inventory so I can do all my shopping research at home, then e-mail them to pull what I want, and go down there and pick them up. Of course once I am there, other purchases wind up coming home with me too!

      I sent you an e-mail asking about the styrax. I'm interested in planting one, and wanted to know why yours was a disappointment.

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  12. As soon as I saw the title of this post I knew I would enjoy it. My plant order list this year contains 95% trees. Like you I know I won't ever see these trees to maturity but there's something hopeful about planting a tree isn't there? p.s. I've eyed up that Parrotia myself :)

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    1. Marguerite, It's great to see a planting list almost all made up of trees. I like that. You have so much more room than I do, I am jealous of the space you have to put in more trees. I hope you plant a parrotia and we can then compare experiences!

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  13. Laurrie, I love your thoughts about planting the trees. I planted my first trees when I was at school and when years had passed I saw these trees and I couldn't recognize them, so tall and shady they were. We plant the trees not for reward, you're right!

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    1. Nadezda, it really is rewarding to see trees planted years ago that are now so tall and shady! But we do it even when we won't see them and that's still a wonderful thing.

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  14. Wonderful post and wonderful tree choices.

    Parrotia persica and the hophornbeam are on my list of trees I'd like to plant someday too :)

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    1. Aaron, several commenters are interested in planting both the parrotia and the hop hornbeam in their gardens. We need to all plant these trees and then compare experiences!

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  15. I think it's wonderful that you love and plant trees! I rarely plant them, although I know that my garden could be improved by adding a few. This past Christmas, I had all my grandchildren plant pecans. I'm hoping they will grow into trees some day! Good luck with yours!

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    1. HolleyGarden, what fun if those pecans come up and grow into trees! You're right, any garden can be improved by planting some trees : )

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  16. There's a quote about planting trees for the future--I wish I could remember it now, but it's something to do with the courage and optimism it takes to plant something you know you'll never enjoy. Good for you--someday someone may thank you for being so fore-sighted...except maybe that sweetgum tree:)

    Lucky you to have such great nurseries nearby; most of ours carry only larger specimens, and not only are they expensive, but I'd have to pay quite a bit to have them plant them. I want smaller, less expensive trees, in case they don't make it here. Thanks for the recommendation about Forestfarm--I often visit their website and wondered how their plants might fare through the shipping process.

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    1. Rose - so glad to see you're back for a while! Forestfarm has been great, if you can afford the shipping. Service is excellent, plant choices are incredible and the plants arrive in great shape.

      Broken Arrow is a retail nursery here in CT, but they also have an online store and will ship.

      Here's a quote I love about planting trees: a civilization flourishes when people plant trees under whose shade they will not sit. Love it!

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  17. Great options there. Broken Arrow is on my list for a visit this coming year.

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    1. Layanee, Broken Arrow is a treat to visit, so make plans to go!

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  18. Your gardening technique sounds flawless! I love it! I hope you keep on trucking at that dream of your's, you deserve it! You do the world a humongous favor every time those trees you've planted give off oxygen

    -Samudaworth Tree Service

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    1. Samudaworth Tree, thanks! I do know I am doing a good thing for the planet, and I certainly have added back all the oxygen the builder took away when the lot was cleared -- but mostly I just do it for my own enjoyment
      : )

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