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Middlebury’s Elm Collection

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Among various tree geeks in New England Middlebury is well known for our Heritage Elm Collection. Elms, of course, naturally succomb to Dutch Elm Disease if we humans aren’t very proactive. We treat 28 old Elm trees, some of which are over 150 years old. I’ve written a couple new pages on them, one a general overview of all of the elms, one a brief primer on Dutch Elm disease and how we maintain the trees, and a final page on the history of the elm tree at Middlebury.

12-Elms

Elms have that classic umbrella shape, but can vary from specimen to specimen. We are fortunate to have trees in a wide variety of sizes and shapes, from the low spreading type like the Dog Elm behind Munroe (yes, we’ve named some of them), to the spectacular high and arching Field House elm. We also have been planting disease resistant varieties, such as Accolade Elm.

I remember a conversation with one of our seasonal employees several years ago, and we were discussing the difference between botany and horticulture. He cited the elm as a good example. Botanically, we will always have elm trees. They don’t die from Dutch elm disease until past their reproductive years, so they will always set seed and produce more young. And looking at them from a geological time perspective, eventually they will develop resistance, although that may be many millennia. Horticulture, though, is as much art as science, and as horticulturists we preserve some of the grandeur of an old elm, and we remember the dignity of the old shade tree as it was, even as we work towards bringing them back.

A New Class Tree

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

What we call a Class Tree on campus is a tree commemorating a graduated class, typically christened with a ceremony during reunion, such as on a 10th, 25th, or even greater. Our department was recently asked to pick a potential class tree for the upcoming reunion, and we’re more than happy to help. Traditionally we use a tree we’ve already planted in the recent past, and only ask that the class pay for the stone and plaque. This way we know the tree is already well established, so will live a good long time.

Trees connect us in many ways—through life, shade, a place to lean and sit under. Class trees are connected memories, bundles not of neurons and blood, but marking with rings and twigs the experiences of four years at Middlebury, a snapshot in time. Looking at class tree makes you think of your time in Middlebury, and your life during the time of that class.

Even before the discussion of where the tree would be and what type, I’d already picked one I thought would be perfect, and the request of having a Vermont Maple aligned perfectly. It’s a Sugar maple, grown by my good friend V.J. Comai at the South 40 nursery in Charlotte, and was planted 3 years ago.

My first summer here I was out in front of the Davis Family Library mapping the trees in the Library Quad. Collectively some of our oldest trees on campus, they are also the most stressed, with years of soil compaction wreaking havoc on fragile root systems. A professor came up to me, to this day I don’t know who, but he undoubtedly taught some of the students in this class. He asked what I was doing.

I explained how I was mapping trees, assessing health and measuring, and he asked if there were plans to plant more trees in this quad. I said most certainly, and showed him some of the weaker old trees nearby, and told him how it was much easier to remove a dying tree if the replacement tree was planted nearby and already well established. He then asked if I was going to keep the original line of trees, and fill some of the holes.

I had no idea what he was talking about. The trees in this quad are scattershot throughout, in random locations in between the uneven lawn shapes formed by the sidewalks. When the new library was constructed, many of the sidewalks were re-done in the library quad. At present, they are graceful swooping curves connecting the various destinations, such as Old Chapel, the library, Emma Willard, and Warner Science and Starr Library.

He points, and I look, and then finally see how many of the trees in the quad aren’t random, but demark a sidewalk long gone, connecting the south (front) door of Warner to the north (again front) door of what we now call Starr/Axinn. The old sugar maples lined the walk, and reading the landscape history, it was clear where some trees were removed, and needed to be replaced. The line is like a hidden Easter egg, a subtle reminder in the landscape of the past that many of us here don’t even know, a past the graduated class looking for a new tree took for granted as they walked on the now removed sidewalk from class to library.

I’ll be placing this plaque in the ground, looking down the row of trees, and thinking about what I was doing while these students were walking the long gone sidewalk. I was failing naptime in preschool.

My preschool was in a church basement, with a painted concrete floor reminiscent of the tile in the church upstairs, but harder, colder. Naptime means we bring out our blankets mom brought the first day of the year, and we place them out in neat rows, lay down for a half hour or so, and probably give the workers there a much needed break. My blanket had developed a hole, and my mom  brought it home the previous night, sewn a patch over, and hung it back up on the rack as she dropped me off.

I lay my blanket out on the floor. There’s the patch I’m seeing for the first time, a large, black, hairy spider right where the hole used to be.

Screaming, tears, running, and no nap. For anybody.

 

Memorial Trees

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Reunion and Commencement is the season when memorial trees always come to my mind. Middlebury has over 85 class trees and memorial trees-a class tree may be planted by a class during a reunion, while a memorial tree is often dedicated to a professor, or a classmate that died while they were a student. People often come back and look at the trees, a living memorial to a memory, or to a person they love and remember. I bet I get 2-3 calls a year from someone looking for a special tree.

One I remember was right after a commencement ceremony several years ago. Someone walked up to the “chair general” asking where the tree planted by the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, was located. They were impressed when, after reaching me on the radio, I knew right where it was. Really, though, how often do you run into maples planted by the Dalai Lama? Of course I knew where it was. You can

visit all the class and memorial trees in Google Earth.

All the memorial and class trees get a little extra love and care, as you can imagine. They’re on a 2 year inspection schedule, as opposed to 5 or so, and get more regualarly pruned and mulched. Planting a new one is a sad honor, and a little stressful. It’s something you don’t really want to mess up. Even simply picking the variety of tree is tough. It’s got to live a long, long time. Having the memorial tree for someone die is just immensely sad and un-imaginable, so I tend toward longer lived species, like oak or maple.

At my previous job at a garden center I had to help a couple I vaguely knew pick a memorial tree they wanted to plant for a young man who had died that had worked for them. I take them out to the large trees, and I steer them towards the Sugar maples. He veers away, makes a beeline right toward the Birches (a short-lived tree I wasn’t walking near on purpose), points to one, and says “That’s the one I want to plant”. His wife looks at him, jaw dropping, hauls back, and slugs him in the arm as hard as she can. He stares at her in disbeilief (she’s very pregnant at the time), and she says, “You can’t pick that kind of tree, that’s the tree he skied into!” They went with a maple.

Location is obviously important too. While I would hope all trees I plant will be there for until the end of time, the reality of an evolving campus means a careful reading of the master plan is in order when choosing a spot to plant a memorial. Class trees tend to be clustered around Library Park, while Memorials try to get planted somewhere meaningful to the person, perhaps near a dorm or an old office. Perhaps the finest example of tree species and location is found in a memorial tree to Pavlo Levkiv ’11, a Bur Oak on the west side of Bicentennial Hall. A very long lived species, and all the room it needs to grow. I wish I was around in 200 years to see it mature.

Pavlo Levkiv '11

Prompting this post was a Chinkapin Oak, rare in Vermont, but native to the Clayplain forest. We’d planted one outside Allen Hall, next to the Limestone ledge behind Chateau, in memory of Nicolas Garza ’11. Coming around the corner on what would have been his graduation day, I saw that his classmates hadn’t forgotten him, nor the tree.

Nick Garza '11

 

 

Edge and Atwater

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Yes, dear readers, I’m still cheating on you on another blog. The Atwater contest is nearing completion, though, and in one of the final posts for Turf Battle I’m again writing about a landscape concept you all might find interesting. I write about Edge, and how it effects the composition of masses and spaces within the landscape.

Space and Atwater

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

I’ve just finished a blog post for the Turf Battle competition that I thought readers of this blog may find interesting, as it pertains to landscape design, the Middlebury landscape in particular. In Space, I wrote about the hierarchy of outdoor spaces on campus, and how the master plan for Middlebury sees our outdoor spaces. I found it fascinating to research, as most of my landscape design courses I took never focused on such large and lofty areas such as these. It’s a quick read, hope you enjoy it.

Middlebury Landscape History

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Over on the Turf Battle Atwater Landscape Contest Blog, I just posted a short new piece readers of this blog might find interesting. I was fooling around in ArcGIS one day, when I came across some historical aerial photographs of the town of Middlebury, including areas of the campus. I exported 3 pictures from the map of the Atwater section of campus, from 2006, 1974, and 1942. I like seeing the differences in canopy cover from year to year, and am amazed how young some “old” trees we have on the north end of campus actually are. Expect more pictures like this soon-this is really cool stuff.

New Planting for Pearson Hall

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

One of my frequent failings in landscaping is my overall excitement when starting a job, especially here at Middlebury. So much of the work we do in the department for new plantings is ripping out large, overgrown, outdated landscape shrubs. Crank up the chainsaw, get the backhoe in position, and dive right in. The failing? I never stop, take a deep breath, and take some interesting ‘before’ pictures.

You’ll just have to trust us. The east (Battell beach) side of Pearson Hall consisted of 8′ evergreen yew hedges, smashed in the center from snow over the last several winters, with a large Burning Bush sticking out of the center, easily reaching into the second story of the building. I’m sure it was all quite lovely many years ago, but foundation plantings of that era relied overmuch on frequent clipping and shearing to maintain proper size, and even then, can only be maintained at manageable levels for so long.

(Most shrubs need to grow, of course, and lose their inner leaves or needles as time goes on. Even if you clip most of a yew back each year, that new inch of so adds up over the decades. The only exception I have heard to this rule is boxwood hedges around temples in Japan, pruned to the same exact shape for so long that a child can walk atop, the growth being so dense and congested.)

Many of the landscapes we’ve redone over the last five years have been that of almost total removal, with smaller, more manageable plantings at key locations. Not only does this lower maintenance, but, if you haven’t noticed, we’ve got some spectacular buildings on campus, and removing the multistory vegetation surrounding them allows the architecture to shine like the day it was born.

Pearson Hall was like that. A great building, hidden in plain sight. The challenge here, though, was that what we call ‘north campus’ is relatively plain,views notwithstanding. So the goal was to make a great planting, bring some color to a new area of campus, while still showing off the facade of Pearson. Dave Berthiaume, the crew chief for North campus, and I made several sketches of the front entrance, trying and failing to install a flower garden and show a building at the same time. Finally, we came up with the idea to pull the planting out, and put all the color in front of the building, in a new bed next to the sidewalk.

New Planting in front of Pearson

Not the greatest picture, but let’s just go with it. On either side of the door are two large shrubs, Seven Son Flower, surrounded by Mugo Pine (hopefully a dwarf variety, but one should never turn their back on a Mugo Pine.) The large shrubs will grow up and over the door, framing the entrance, but not overpower the building.

It’s the bed out front with all the color. The little red thing in the middle is actually a tree,  a Japanese Maple. Readers from the south may not understand how special this is to us up here, but we love the red leaves, and try and fill the few microclimates we have available to us with this little marginally hardy tree. And imagine the red leaves in front of the building. It’ll get about 12′ tall and wide in the north country here, 20′+ further south.

Surrounding the little tree are some shrubs, and filling the holes in between are perennials. It’s a trick I use all over campus. One of the secrets to landscaping is a rule: If it looks good when it goes in, it’s too crowded. Trees and shrubs need room, more room than impatient idiots like me want to give them, so instead of wasting plants I give them proper room, and fill the spaces in between with perennials. As the shrubs grow, the perennials can be dug and divided, moved forward in the bed, or put somewhere else on campus.

Even with all of the flowers gone some day, the shrubs Dave and I picked will easily stand on their own. A couple of dwarf conifers anchor either end. A ‘Jane Kluis’ Japanese Red Pine, and one of my favorites, a ‘Sherwood Frost’ Arborvitae, like the White Cedar in the swamps around here, but with new growth emerging a snow white.

'Sherwood Frost' Arborvitae

A couple of deciduous shrubs round out the structure, a blue leafed form of Fothergilla (‘Blue Shadow’), and another favorite of mine, Compact Summersweet.

'Blue Shadow' Fothergilla -Leaf closeup

Compact Summersweet-mature ones in front of Emma Willard

The rest of the space is filled with perennials. It is tricky to buy perennials for a planting. The temptation is to grab everything that looks good, thereby assuring a glorious two or three weeks of color, and a lot of green leaves the rest of the summer. We tried to pick a broad range of plant times, but the German language school in session when we planted this may have a bit of a bonus.

'Jethro Tull' Coreopsis

'Morning Light' Miscanthus

'Rozanne' Perennial Geranium

There is more in there, but I took the best pictures. I keep obsessive records on what we plant, like what I wish I’d done at my own house (50+ varieties of daylilies, some with names…), so if you ever have the need to know what something is, just get in touch.