Miss Snippy Chains Herself to a Tree

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Oh, my aching muscles...

By Wendy Tweten


Let’s just bulldoze the forest into one big pile and light a match, shall we? Who needs big, messy trees when we can commune perfectly well with nature while steering our riding mowers across our monotonous and overmedicated lawns? At least the lawn makes a nice change from condos and concrete. Though Miss Snippy shies away from bandwagons of all types—finding the ride uncomfortable and the destination uncertain—she feels the time has come to chain herself to a tree: metaphorically if not physically.

Of late, Miss Snippy’s heart is breaking at the sight of woodland ripped down acre by acre around her once sylvan little village. I guess we just can’t have anything nice.

Why, oh why do so many landowners (not to mention developers!) feel that the only good tree is a dead tree? Miss Snippy has seen mature firs and big-leaf maples chopped in half, leaving naked poles jutting skyward like some bizarre, pagan shrine. We have seen lovely woodlands razed, only to be allowed to re-grow into thickets of Scotch broom, evergreen blackberry, and a host of other invasive non-natives. The homes of other species are plowed under to make way for ours. What are we doing? More importantly, where does it end?

Miss Snippy was interested to learn, from the book Botany for Gardeners by Brian Capon, that plants—photosynthesizing plants—may well be responsible for creating Earth’s current atmosphere. Photosynthesis, a magical process to which all life on Earth owes its existence, is in itself reason enough to revere plants. But, as if that wasn’t enough, the vegetation that once flourished in the primeval swamps gobbled up huge amounts of carbon dioxide, enough to change the composition of the air itself, and took it to the grave. Mankind is now busily releasing all this prehistoric CO back into the atmosphere by burning these ancient fossil fuels, while simultaneously eradicating the huge forests that act to recapture the gas. We all really do owe a tree a hug.

Miss Snippy firmly asserts, and you fellow gardeners will agree, that the only excuse for removing woodland is to create garden. Of course, if it’s nice woodland, it’s best to simply add to the gift you’ve been given; think of it as redecorating your house rather than burning it down and starting over. The garden of Heronswood is a good example of native forest interplanted with many wonderful things. How satisfying to possess such an appropriate venue for Arisaema, Asarum, Cardiocrinum, Trillium, Polygonatum, Disporum, Uvularia and the lovely pagoda dogwood, Cornus alternifolia.

There are many ways to work with nature: mature trees may be limbed up or thinned to augment a view without killing the tree; some homeowners are willing to leave a handsome, view-blocking deciduous tree in situ as a reason to welcome winter; and big, sturdy trees make excellent scaffolds for climbing hydrangeas or Clematis montana.

When augmenting existing woodland, Miss Snippy finds it necessary to keep new plants well watered the first year or two, since existing roots are greedy. We also suggest the addition of a good quantity of rustic garden seating from which one may watch the gambolings of the towhees, chipmunks, and banana slugs. Remember, even if your banana slugs are as big as wiener dogs, they are native and should be protected—though you are allowed to salt them with your tears as they skeletonize the Kirengenshoma.

If you are the proud owner of a wooded or shady site, let go your dreams of turfdom. Lawn wants at least half a day of direct sun. And even the slightly shade-tolerant fescues will be patchy at best beneath conifers, which are notoriously heavy drinkers. Let the moss have it: that’s Miss Snippy’s advice.

But what if you have no woodland? What if the developer left your lovely new tract house enveloped by nothing more than dry and rocky subsoil? For non-gardeners, Miss Snippy recommends a heavily-starched American flag and a derelict dune buggy. If, however, you aspire beyond your own personal moonscape, consider planting a mini-woodland. Start by replenishing the soil with at least four inches (more is better) of a good three-way topsoil (loam, sand, and compost). Consider including columbine and mahonia for the hummingbirds, serviceberries for the song birds, and some Queen-Anne’s-lace and asters on the edges for the butterflies. And, please, plant a tree.

Miss Snippy’s Gardening Glossary

Water sprouts, suckers, and spurs

First of all, if you have a waterspout in your garden, run for your life. A waterspout is a type of tornado that pulls ocean water upward. The term you may be searching for is water sprout: rapidly-growing, vertical shoots that arise from the trunk and branches of trees. If you’re feeling scientific, call them epicormic sprouts. Water sprouts are often triggered by tree topping and other severe pruning. Suckers have a growth habit similar to water sprouts, but arise from a tree’s roots, base, or from below a bud union (as on grafted trees and roses). Water sprouts and suckers are usually viewed with annoyance by gardeners. On the other hand, spurs are fruit-producing stubby branches employed by certain varieties of fruit trees and vines. Spur pruning encourages the formation of spurs.

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