Tree Removals 2011

Like most years, the landscape department takes advantage of the upcoming holiday break to do some tree removals. Not that we are doing anything under the cover of darkness-it’s more like we don’t want to break the solitude of campus with the cacaphony of chainsaws and tree chippers, not to mention the lack of stress we have when not having to do hazardous work with pedestrians walking around us.

Like last year, we’re working off of a hazardous tree list we’ve kept for several years now. Each year, the hazardous trees are inspected in the early fall, the best time to observe stress in the plant. We’re getting toward the end of the list of hazards that must be removed, as this year we’ve selected 6 trees that for reasons described below must be removed.

Actually, 7 trees, but one is sad and important enough to warrant it’s own post later in the week.

The first tree on the list is a big one, a Norway maple north of Starr/Axinn. Like I’ve written previously, this tree is held together by a web of cables up in the crown, two complete systems. The first set is a group of three cables holding the main scaffolds together, and the second set is a complete ring around the canopy. Like we’ve seen in the Black Willow that failed by Battell, failure of one of these limbs can compromise the rest of the cable system, and lead to total failure. For this reason cable systems should be inspected yearly, preferably whilst up in the crown of the tree.

This tree has been declining in health for the past several years.. Notice the greatly thinning canopy in the following pictures, with the interval between last year and this being by far the greatest loss.

Canopy fall 2006

Canopy fall 2010

Canopy fall 2011

The cabling systems were originally installed to protect against failure in the main trunk. Norway maples, though, have a life span, one that is quite a bit shorter than I’d thought, and this tree has reached the end of it’s life. Over 75% of the crown was dead wood, with hollow scaffold branches held up only by cable. Most worrisome was the appearance of several types of fungi, indicating rotten wood both in the trunk and in the root system. While I hate to see such a large tree go, we can’t risk failure in an area so heavily trafficked.

The next tree on the list is another large one, a Silver maple by the Davis Family Library.

Silver maples are poor compartmentalizers, meaning any wounds they suffer sit and rot, further decay going up the stem and into the trunk. This tree has a major defect at the attachment of the main scaffolds, and hollow limbs on two of them. This tree had a hanging branch several years ago, and I climbed up there on rope to remove it. After ascending, I noticed the branch I was tied into was completely hollow, an empty tube the length of the branch. I didn’t stay up long.

After any major windstorm I would always look towards this tree on my drive into work to see if it was still standing. The crack shown above has opened up in the last year.

Another Norway maple in need of removal is next to Centeno, another Norway at the end of it’s life. This tree, like the other, has poor scaffold attachments at the base, and suffers from major cavities with rot. The crown has also suffered major decline in the preceding year, losing much of it’s foliage.

Centeno maple 2010

Centeno Norway 2011

The rot in the trunk holds water, and is actually deep, over 1 foot. Note how, typical of Norways, much of the leaf surface is on the ends of the branch, and therefore much of the weight is as well. This raises a red flag, as high wind events cantilever the branch, with the foliage acting like a sail.

At the top of the stairs leading to the east side of Gifford is a Black Cherry tree, leaning towards the stairs and a nearby light pole.

Lean in a tree towards a target is always troublesome, or at the least worthy of a second, closer look. This tree suffers from a cavity at the root flare in the direction of the lean, indicating a weakened or even missing root system in the potential failure direction.

The last two trees on this removal list are both Sugar maples, which, given the percentage of Sugars on campus, is hardly surprising. The first tree doesn’t really have an obvious cause of death, but is nearly dead nonetheless. It’s located up at the tailgate area, near Route 30.

The final sugar to remove is located up by Hepburn, and to be honest I didn’t really want to see this one go.  In fact, it probably should have been removed several years ago, when its defect was first noticed. Students in my winter term class will recognize it, and the tree is prominent in all of my tree tours. Rarely do you see such a concrete example of girdling roots causing an untimely death.

Nobody ever said trees were terribly intellegent. This tree grew several roots that wrapped around the root flare, so as they grew the tree was slowly strangling itself.

Water couldn’t go up the trunk, nor nutrients down. It showed all the classic symptoms of root girdling over the last several years. First the top started to die back, as the very upper reaches of the tree starved. Next the side of the tree with the girdling died back, followed by major sections of the trunk. Finally the entire tree itself starved as it tried to reprioritize, but without sufficent water and nutrient flow just couldn’t retrench to live out its final days the way many mature trees do.

I’m compiling our Tree Karma score for this year as part of our Tree Campus re-application, but am fairly confident we’ve planted many, many more trees than we’ve removed, even with all the freak storms this summer. Feel free to contact me with further questions or concerns you may have.

Your resume, your life

Nancy got an email the other day from a former student/co-worker at the Grille asking for help with a resume, and she shared the email with me. Rather fortuitous, as I’d been assigned to write my ‘personal biography’ for my upcoming TEDx talk, and I’d also been reading Ryan Kellet’s recent MiddBlog postings on job searching, (and one on starting, but for the sake of this post we’ll assume you’re already there) so my own resume was on my mind. I’ve been on both ends of the resume game, I’ve been at it a while, and I’ve had some excellent teachers along the way, so I thought this would be a good time to share some thoughts. Melody, this one’s for you.

First secret? You don’t have one resume, you have hundreds, one for every job you apply for. A resume is not a static document, but it’s a sales pitch, and one that you should customize for every job. Nancy is a great example. She’s done carpentry, house restoration, boat building, cooking in restaurants, supervising, senior care, day care, even landscaping (not for me, I’m a terrible boss). If she is applying for a cooking job, her resume will reference most of that experience, while a construction job will focus on her degree and experience in Historic Preservation.

And this works on a smaller scale as well. Let’s say you are applying for a job supervising a small work group. Your summer job as a camp counselor is probably more experience than you realize at supervision and it only takes a couple of words to make the cut into the ‘call’ pile.  Or maybe you are over-qualified for the position, but you’d really like to eat next week. Think carefully when describing your experience, and tailor each copy you send out. A resume is not a make it or break it document that will get you a job, but a well crafted one will get you noticed. The Career Services office has a list of ‘core competencies’ language that is excellent.

Another secret. You’re about to graduate, and you don’t have a lot of experience, so you may be afraid your resume may be a little empty. In reality, even a skimpy resume speaks volumes. When I am plowing through a stack of resumes, even for an entry level job, a well crafted document says a lot about the applicant. Spelling errors, bad grammar, and/or poor layout shows a lack of attention I find troubling in an employee, and don’t waste my time interviewing.

I won’t talk about formatting, style, etc. There is heaps of bad advice out on the net about resumes. The best way to separate the good from the bad? Any template that suggests a ‘mission statement’, ‘job objective’ or ‘personal goals’ section of a resume should be ignored with all due haste. I don’t care what your personal goal is-I know it’s to get a job. Give me and my tired eyes a break.

The best template I’ve found, with excellent advice to boot, is found at the Career Services Office right here at Middlebury. Keep your resume to one page. Don’t exaggerate. Don’t’ get fancy. Did I say keep it to one page?

What are other ways to fill out your first resume starting out in the big scary world? I’m not a terribly big fan of the activities and interests section most resumes have, but it certainly is a good area to fill out a lack of experience. Please, though, call the sectional  ‘additional’. What kinds of things am I looking for? Once again, it depends on the job I’m looking to fill.  Are you a member of a trade organization in my field? Do you spend your nights coding for free on an open source software project, or are you just laying about in your jammies playing X-Box? Are you an active participant in your life?

The best resume secret, though, is the hardest. You need to keep your resume updated. Constantly.  Maybe it’s your birthday, maybe New Years Day, or tax day, but once a year look over your resume. Maybe you have something to add. Maybe, like me, you look it over and see a subtle, but deeply embarrassing grammatical error. You may get asked for a resume in an elevator while making small talk. The person asking will forget who you are by tomorrow, after you spent the previous night re-writing your moldy, dusty, stale life. The same person will be impressed if your resume is in their in-box in half of an hour. Attention to detail, being an active participant in your life.

In the same vein, keep a list of extraordinary things, items that didn’t make it into this draft of your resume. Time spent volunteering, times you’ve been quoted in the newspaper, anything where someone paid attention to you. You’re special, so literally don’t forget it, and write it down.

My last piece of advice would be to constantly look for work, even when you aren’t. Always read the help wanted ads. They tell you more than you realize. A restaurant continually looking to hire line cooks has potential to be a terrible place to work, or a food co-op with high turnover might not have the atmosphere they think they do. Help wanted sections are the pulse of a community, the news behind the news. Trust me, the job of your life may come around when you think you aren’t looking.

New Year, More Damage

I was asked (and jumped at the chance) to join Community Council this year, and was in a meeting last Monday when I was asked if there was any vandalism this year to the landscape. I happily reported we haven’t seen anything this year. I’d spoken too quickly, as the guys in the landscape department hadn’t been around the entire campus that day, but had been by tuesday.

We’ve certainly had our problems in the past (even have a tag for vandalism on the blog), but I was hoping the student (or students) had moved on, or at least come to see the error of their ways. I’d even heard through the grapevine that one of the perpetrators may have been caught.

‘Satomi’ Kousa Dogwood, a nice little pink flowering tree, was planted in Ross Commons near the plaza this spring. Someone tried their best to rip it up out of the ground last weekend.

You can see the broken branch on the ground, but the real issue here is the root system. Look at the root flare, where you can see the tree was repeatably pulled back and forth in an attempt to pull it out of the ground.

We had no choice but to dig the tree up and replant it. About 40-50% of the roots were broken in the process, all on one side. Hopefully youthful vigor will rally the tree and it will recover, but the outlook is grim with that much root loss.

More senselessly, two shrubs were pulled up out of the ground next to their holes at Battell South. They were Summersweet, a shrub so nice I wrote about it a little while back. We replanted those as well.

Let’s try and make this the one random incident this year, please.

Autumn Wood

The Class of ’97 Trail, part of the Trail around Middlebury, winds through young woods. Forests age, and this section is in its toddler years, skinny Sugar maple and oak showing potential, but with an invaisive understory of buckthorn and barberry clawing at your legs, asking to be held.

Among this youthful energy lies a poem, playing off the ancient renga form, called Autumn Wood. A renga in the strictest sense is a linked 100 stanza poem, with a meter grandparent to the haiku. It’s an ancient collaboration form of the poem-the first renga recorded was a shared experience between a buddhist nun and Ōtomo no Yakamochi, one of the 36 Poetry Immortals, in the 8th (!) century. Our Middlebury renga shares only the collaboration part, but is an installation through the woods along the TAM trail.

Walking through the woods one confronts poetry hanging from the trees in white lacquered paper. The poems, at least the ones I had the brief time to read, share the common theme of the environment they hang in, but don’t strictly make up a single cohesive unit like a true renga. Interspersed among the poems are photographs, some even of the item they hang upon.

Along the path lies art, almost hidden in the forest, peering out. Buds, berries, bark, and branches are woven together, or even just artfully lying on the ground, with rock and soil used to ground them. Some of these are subtle, and may only been seen on the walk back, while others jump out on the trail.

My favorite piece is naturally by my wonderful wife, a crocheted net hanging on some buckthorn. Should I worry about the direction her art is taking?: last years scarf is called Marley’s Ghost, a felted knit chain, and now a net…

My favorite poem is a timely piece written by John Elder-

Warm September woods-
all these lovesick mosquitoes
from Irene’s pocket.

To visit, go park up at Kirk Alumni Center (the golf course) and carefully walk across Route 30 to the big sign on the start of the TAM trail. The installation is scheduled to be up through the random date of October 27th, a thursday, so this is your weekend to go experience it. Hopefully the organic art will remain to meld with the forest floor.

 

Atwater Finished, for now

We’re declaring a truce on Turf Battle, taking a break until next summer. Left for next year will be the planting around the northern retention pond, and the sidewalk removal and re-configuration south of Allen Hall, and completing the wall next to the patio.

This was my fifth growing season at Middlebury, and Turf Battle was the largest landscape project I’ve been involved with here. Feedback on all of the projects I’ve worked on is familiar and welcome, (first thing I learned here? Everybody has an opinion, many of them opposing each other), but I’ve never gotten so much positive feedback from a job than this one. Students smiling at me, thanking the crew, saying how much better the area looks.

So I feel the need to let you know of the immense amount of people that helped this project come together. I’m the one with the loud mouth, but many more people behind the scenes at Middlebury deserve much more credit than I. Let’s start with Tim Spears, the driving force behind the Turf Battle contest, and Sarah Franco, his partner in crime. Also Dave Berthiaume, the crew chief in the landscape department for that area of campus, who listened to me talk through a lot of the nitty gritty design work on the plantings, and told me when I was losing my mind.

Most important, though, is Luther Tenny, an Assistant Director of Facilities, and our resident civil engineer. The landscapers get all the glory work-we come into a job site that essentially looks like well-placed piles of dirt, and when we’re done, the area is gorgeous. The devil is in the engineering, though. Drain placement, sidewalk and ADA ramp layout, handrail construction, job scheduling, budgeting, timing, and talking me out of crazy ideas, yeah, that’s the idea. Atwater would be a big hot mess were it not for Luther.

I’ll attempt a photo tour, and explain some of the changes we made during construction to the actual plan. As always, click on the picture for a larger view. Let’s start at the Atwater Dining plaza.

This is an overall view, from the Atwater Dining hall roof. (In all these pictures, you’ll have to imagine the dirt patches as grass. It’s up now, but not when I took the pictures) The new handrails show on either side of the stairway, with the brown mulched beds on either side. Originally, the landscape architect’s plan called for the entire area from Allen Hall to the stairs and the island formed by the ADA ramp to the right of the stairs to all be one giant planted bed, with shrubs and some flowers. In talking it over with Dave and his landscape crew, we decided this would be far too much to take care of, too much weeding and maintenance until the beds get established.

This is in line with much of our landscaping we perform at Middlebury now. With less crew and more areas to maintain, the old style landscaping of large planted beds are no more. Instead, we prefer to have small focused beds in high traffic areas, and take very good care of those. In this spot, though, we were having troubles designing how these smaller beds should look. No matter how we laid the shapes out, it all seemed a jumbled mess.  After fussing for a while, we stumbled across the brilliance of the Wagner plan. His layout of the beds to either sides of the stairs were in straight lines off of the stairs. The problem we were having was the multitude of lines in the tight area; the curving roof line, the arch of the ADA ramp, the columns on dining hall. How did we mesh all of that together in the landscape? Simply put, we didn’t. Straight lines off the stairs relate the importance of that feature in the landscape, making the passage the dominant feature. The confusion of the curve of the ramp fades in significance.

Alternating these beds on either side of the stairs with grass gives the walk down a sense of rhythm, and simplifies the landscape. These beds are followed through across the area formed by the ADA ramp, blocking a shortcut we didn’t want to turn into a grass path.

We also carried one more bed to the dining hall side of the ramp, matching both the parallel sides and the size. This should help in making the plaza area feel more enclosed in a garden space.

River birch trees (Betula nigra) were planted throughout the dining plaza area, much like the grove at Ross Dining. We modified the locations of many of them, in part to enhance the garden feel, but also to provide screening from the area above. We’re hoping for an intimate feel down on the plaza, and limiting the views of the upper areas, and of Battell  Beach.

Admittably, the least popular bit of landscaping we did is right next to Allen Hall, blocking the dirt path that leads down to the Johnson Parking lot. While we would have liked to have put a sidewalk here, the topography made it impossible, and for a variety of reasons, including erosion, dorm window privacy, and accessibility, the area was planted in native White pine and Red Twig Dogwood, and will blend with the native retention pond below.

Moving up the stairs, I once again had the pleasure of working with Brad Lambert, our stone mason at Middlebury. A flaw in the sidewalk layout with no graceful way of fixing means people cut the corner across the grass as they turn to descend the stairs. Pouring a triangle of concrete would have wrecked the graceful lines, and while some were advocating for a well-placed BFR, Brad and I instead did a simple little Panton stone wall, to limit the area of dead grass. The stone used is a match to the ledge behind, and is recycled from a stone wall that surrounded the Proctor deck before its renovation several years ago.

I became fixated on approaches and entrances. Notice above how the two flower beds to either side of the first stairs are placed. The further one comes all the way out, while the closer one with the birch is placed further away from the main walk, subtly leading you into the stairs, implying the inevitable turn.

Above is the new sidewalk across the west side of Allen Hall. It’s one of those “aha” moments you have, when  you can’t believe this sidewalk wasn’t always there. The large bed on the left has a disease resistant ‘Accolade’ elm in the center, and the contrasting focal point in front is a Dwarf Hinooki Cypress, as I’m a fool for dwarf conifers. This is a fairly large bed by our standards, but the space deserves it.

Here’s the view from the front of Allen, with that new sidewalk leading off to the right.The gardens in front of the ledge are to the left. We’re picking up on the same effect here as at the top of the Atwater Dining, with more gardens on the left subtly steering toward the dining hall.

Looking toward Atwater dining, across the Panton stone ledge, so you can see the gardens around the ledge. And remember Brad Lambert? I forget the student that came up with the suggestion to have pathways through the garden to the ledge, but I roped Brad into making a couple. They look good on the photographs, but really should be seen in person. Once again, they are composed of recycled wall stone from Proctor.

Here’s a view toward Atwater Dining from the top of the ledge. The plants in the garden are mainly summer and fall flowers and grasses, including Black Eyed Susan, White and Pink Coneflower, Japanese Anemone, and several varities of grasses. The effect we’re looking for is to echo the roof planting, composed of wildflowers and grasses, with the gardens surrounding the ledge, joining two major landscape elements.

 

The gardens wrap around the stamped concrete patio next to Hall B. Like the Dining Hall plaza, we’re hoping for the feeling of being enclosed by the garden.

One of the most asked questions I’ve been getting on the project is the reason for the large berm behind Chateau. The long answer is that the hill breaks up the relativly flat topography in the area, and offers a new perspective for views in the landscape. Short answer? Needed some soil to grow a grove of trees. The plans called for a grove of single stem River birch, but we changed it to Honeylocust. The pH of the soil was too high for Birch, and we were also concerned about overplanting one species in the landscape. Honeylocust is one of my favorite shades-a dappled light dark enough to be cooling in the glare of summer, but bright enough so it doesn’t feel cave-like.

The Honeylocust were planted in lines specifically to preserve views of Chipman Hill. The stairs on the plan turned out to be recycled granite that facilities had in storage.

Top of the berm looking north, down toward the parking lot. Anyone with a history in Atwater are probably wondering what that foriegn green is between the halls-it’s grass. The trees shown below are Sycamore, a great fast growing shade tree. The wall, without the stone face, is visible to the right.

Standing on the sidewalk in the middle looking toward Battell Beach. Up at the top are more elms, also to the west of Chateau, to provide some screening between the Atwater area and the quidditch pitch.

One final picture, more grass, and a view down towards the lower retention pond. We’re going to get to the planting around the pond next year.

 

 

 

 

Seven Son Flower

I don’t know if I’m a lazy, slothful gardener, or just a brutally honest one, but either way I’m hoping for a hard frost pretty soon. I’m tired. My garden is tired. A good significant freeze, a cleaning of the summer slate, an official change of the seasons, that’s what I need.

Given my perennial neglect, fall flowers always hold a soft spot for me. Anything that can brighten the garden in September is a bonus. Take Asters, rising up above the weeds of late summer. Sure, go ahead and curse the Aster yellows causing the lower leaves to fall away all summer, making the plant look ridiculous, but the bright pinks and blues as a surprising upper tier to the late garden redeem almost any neglected space. Grasses hold their own all season, but shine in the fall as vertical accents even as other plants droop and hunch like my sore autumn back.Trees and shrubs, though, are truly a lazy gardener’s friend. For a minimum of work, they blossom and grow dependably. In the plant world, it’s like something for nothing.

Heptacodium minicoides - Seven Son Flower

Seven Son Flower, Heptacodium minicoides, is a recent introduction into the plant world. Originally discovered by the famous plant explorer E.H. Wilson in 1907, at Hsing-shan in western Hubei province in China. Found on cliffs about 3000 feet above sea level, only one seed was found, so dry specimens were collected and brought to an herbarium. Another expedition found the plant in the Hangzhou Botanical Garden in 1980, and two seed collections were made from a single plant and distributed to various arboretums. Most active in spreading the plant around was the Arnold Arboretum in Massachusetts. (Read the complete history ) As far as I can tell in my reading, all plants in the trade trace back to that single plant.

Seven Son flower gets its name from the seven headed inflorescences on the flower cluster. The white flowers wouldn’t draw much attention in the spring, as they honestly don’t hold a candle to a lilac. In September, though, they draw the eye through the tired landscape, showing off against the pale tattered leaves of most trees and shrubs in the late summer.

Heptacodium-flowers

The plant seems to grow somewhere between 10-20′ high, and about 10-12′ tall. It’s one of those gangly plants that defy the easy tree/shrub category, although the finest specimens seem to be pruned into attractive multi-stemmed small trees. The advantage to this little bit of work is the ability to show off the bark, which peels in long strips in alternating cinnamon and light brown shades. The leaves hold opposite each other along the stem (showing off its familial relation to Honeysuckles, the Caprifoliaceae) and stay dark green, pest and disease free all season. Some books claim no fall color, but we seem to get a dependable, but not stunning, gold.

Seven Son Flower-bark

Further south, once the flowers fall, the calyxes stay attached, and while the seeds are forming, turn bright red, looking like a second bloom on the plant. Honestly, I’ve never noticed this in Vermont, and the book Landscape Plants of Vermont states that the the season ends too soon for this Cape Myrtle effect, but I’ve managed to photograph some last week, and I’m watching.

Heptacodium calyxes

For the observant, there is one planted near Painter Hall, just off of Old Chapel road, pruned to a single trunk. Other clump forms are on the south side of Munford, the east side of Pearson Hall, and a couple other places I’m forgetting. Heptacodium seems to do best in full sun, but is at least partially shade tolerant as well.

Atwater Construction-Turf Battle

Doing large construction projects at Middlebury comes with a unique challenge, that of time. Most colleges and universities have various programs running throughout the summer, like summer camps and classes. Middlebury, though, has an entire college, the Language School. This intensive 6-9 week program requires the full attention of the students, so we in Facilities try not to tear the whole place up. Therefore, most of our large projects, like the Atwater landscape, we schedule for the couple of weeks from the end of August to the start of Fall Semester.

So Turf Battle begins. We’re winning, by the way, turf tends to lose when faced with an excavator. I will admit its been quite an experience. Most landscape restorations I’ve done at Middlebury are all uphill-starting from the beginning to the very end, the continual process is one of improvement, the next day looking better than the first.

The Atwater landscape at present looks like hell.

Fear not. We’re laying a good foundation, and things will come together quickly. Much of what we’ve done is laying a good foundation (literally, in some cases) for the landscaping on top. I took a bunch of pictures last week to share on the progress.

One of the first parts was the renovation of the ADA ramp to Atwater Dining Hall. The old ramp, made of blacktop, was ripped out, and after regrading, replaced with concrete, now meeting proper codes for width, pitch, and a flat landing area at the bend.

This sidewalk, on the west side of Allen Hall, was added. To the left of the sidewalk in the triangle formed by the walks will be a large planting bed.

Another view of the new walk. This area previously was all crushed stone, put down to prevent mud, as the area was so heavily trafficked that no grass could grow.

This was the beginning of the patio, after layout. The grades here are tricky-the natural lay of the existing ground wanted to send water right toward the building. This is where the excavator came in handy.

View of the patio looking north. This type of patio is tricky to pour and stamp. The concrete is pre-colored in the truck, then stamped on site with what for all intensive purposes look like giant rubber stamps. The process takes a while, so only a square a day can be done, lest the concrete set up before it all gets stamped.

A freshly poured corner piece. We kept the sidewalk through the center of the patio looking like sidewalk in order to keep it’s function. Hopefully tables and chairs won’t be placed on the sidewalk to keep the way clear for access.

A view of the berm looking north. The berm is made of topsoil removed from all the sidewalk and patio excavation, so is a sandy/rocky mix. The berm will be topped with 6″ of good topsoil, to help the trees and lawn that will be planted there. It is hard to get a feel for the size of the berm on pictures, but suffice it to say it is quite large in person.

Here is a view of the berm looking south. The rise at present is pretty close to 4′

One of my favorite parts of the project, not showing up well with my weak cell phone camera. This view is from the top of the berm looking towards Chipman Hill. While during the design competition we’d discussed saving the view of the hill, what surprised me that I hadn’t thought of is the new perspective of the Atwater Dining green roof afforded by the higher topography of the berm.

The project won’t be done by the time the semester begins. Our goal is to have most of the loud construction finished shortly. There are a couple of squares of patio to finish, as well as the two sidewalks leading west from the patio. The next step, which should begin this week, is the planting. We’ll be starting with the planting around Atwater Dining, and will expand out from there as other pieces of the project fall into place.

 

Irene Still Hanging Around

Like a guest that just won’t leave, the effects of Irene the Hurricane still seem to be around Middlebury. Primarily what we’re watching now is the Otter Creek.

South Street-flooding in the fields

It takes a while. All the headwaters that feed into the creek have been slowly dropping, like my own muddy Lemon Fair River, and so the Otter Creek is rising. How fast? The football team, at Middlebury for pre-season practice, skipped the weight lifting today and went to fill and stack sandbags at Jackson’s on the River (the old Tully and Marie’s to you alumni) ( The old Woodie’s to you older alumni). (Great little article here).

Another stream feeding the deluge is the North Branch River, the one that falls along Route 125, heading up to Breadloaf and the Snow Bowl. Last I heard, the road is still closed (picture here), although Breadloaf is still accessible by back roads.

Otter Creek Levels-via National Weather Service

As I write, the Otter Creek in Middlebury is at 6.9′, within the top 20 crests of all time, and is thought to reach peak tonight around midnight. Not wanting to wait that long, I took some pictures downtown to try and capture the feel of a simply amazing amount of water, brown and muddy, crashing through town. One of our seasonal landscapers was a dairy farmer in Orwell for 30+ years, and in his experience he’s never seen water so muddy. Another guy in our shop is at home, an island experience, surrounded by water on all sides unable to come to work.

On Battell Bridge Looking East

Jackson's on the River

The Falls

Looking under Battell Bridge

The Bottom of the Sluice

 

 

Irene visits Middlebury

Given all the flooding and destruction in the state, I feel very fortunate here at Middlebury, and at my house overlooking the Lemon Fair (flooded, but looks like a normal spring). While we certainly had some damage on campus, it feels relativly minor compared to friends in East Middlebury in need of a new backyard.

Irene brought 3.21″ of rain to the main campus weather station, to bring a wet August total to about 7 3/4″ of rain. The peak wind registered was 37 mph, at about 6:30 yesterday. Breadloaf campus saw 5.13″ of rain, bringing their August rain to 11.27″. They saw a peak wind gust of 39 mph, later in the evening than down in the valley.

No major problems occured on campus. Facilities was busy with their usual leaks here and there, but it didn’t seem any more significant than another big rain. We’d spent a chunk of Friday mobilizing for the storm; gassing and sharpening chain saws, getting wet vacs ready, checking pumps.

Monday morning dawned clear and fresh, and revealed a mid September amount of fallen leaves, along with a plethora of sticks. Some large branches broke in the wind, as well as having a couple of trees topple over. Overall, however, I was pleased with the relative lack of tree damage. This late in the year weak trees are already shedding their leaves, or have thinner than usual crowns, so the more storm prone trees have less “sail” to catch the wind. A large limb heavy with black walnuts fell behind Turner house, but other fruit bearing trees did fine.

The immense rain in a short amount of time causes the most damage for trees. The soil below the tree turns to soup, roots lose their holding capability, and trees can topple in the wind. A good example is a Basswood lost right below Gifford, at the base of the ledge. All the water percolates a little ways down the soil profile, until it hits the ledge, then drains downhill right towards this tree. Combine that with the lack of roots on the ledge side of the tree, and the reason this tree fell is pretty clear.

Basswood below Gifford Hall and Mead Chapel

Another tree with a compromised root system was a Poplar growing out of a stone wall behind the Hadley House Barn. One of our crew members commented how the roots went right through the wall, and this was a good reason to remove sucker trees before they get too large.

Poplar Tree at Hadley House

The rotting root system in the wall

Overall, we did fine. Here’s another couple of pictures of some damage, we’ll have it cleaned up in another day or so.

Blue Spruce by Fletcher House

This one was tricky. A Black Maple on the east side of Old Chapel lost a large limb, breaking another couple, but the limb was held up in the tree by an old cabling system, so extracting the limb from the tree involved some minor rigging and rope work.

Last picture-weeping willows always look so dramatic when broken. This one, located behind the esteemed Francois’ house, lost two major limbs, but had the good grace to avoid the power line right below. He and his dog watched it fall. No, the dog was not in the crate at the time…

Summersweet

Memories of first loves can sneak up, then slam into the consciousness, triggered, perhaps by the sound of a song in a car at a stop light, the sight of a certain color hair, or, most strongly, a scent slipping into your brain upbiden.

For me, smell. Summersweet may well be my first plant love. The unique scent reminds me of a Connecticut childhood, wandering in the woods mid-summer, and smelling the spicy flowers for half a mile or more before coming upon the colony of undergrowth, sometimes a half an acre in size. Blooming now, and in fact for most of July as well, the plant sports long 3-4″ spikes of white (or pink, we’ll get to that) flowers, with a fragrance of, oh, vanilla and cloves together. Maybe that doesn’t even describe it, but is as lovely as it sounds.

Others know it as Sweet Pepperbush, for its small seedheads that look like little peppercorns, but without the taste. The latin is the rather unwieldy name of Clethra alnifolia, and is a native shrub to the east coast, from Florida all the way north to Maine and Nova Scotia. In fact, the only northeast state where Clethra is not found seems to be Vermont. Its marginal hardiness in zone 4 probably prevents it being found wild in our state, but this certainly doesn’t preclude use in the landscape.

Clethra alnifolia 'Compacta'- Summersweet

Given the bright audacity of so much in the late summer landscape, the subtlety of Clethra in bloom is a refreshing change of pace. It comes from a forest understory provenance, so they naturally do best in shade, and prefer some moisture. Smart gardeners are drawn to shade in the heat, and while the hostas are looking tired and beat, summersweet glows bright and fresh. My lone plant at my house is in a dry shade, but the species seems to grow well in sun given sufficient moisture.

Even the leaves stay clean and lustrous all season, in various shades of mid to an almost black green, with a slight sheen on top. Fall brings a bright yellow gold, holding late in the year. Full grown plants range from 4-8′ tall, depending on moisture, and tend to be wider than tall owing to its suckering nature, sending new plants up from the roots.

Yes, by all means, dig those suckers up and pass them to friends you like.

Michael Dirr, in his Manual of Woody Landscape Plants, writes of seeing Clethra next to a water feature while shopping at L.L. Bean in Freeport, and “I got so excited I amost fell in taking photographs. L.L Bean is a terrific company plus they know their plants.” He raves on “if a retailer says he/she cannot find Clethra tell them Dirr said it is one of the easiet plants to grow at the commercial and garden levels and excuses will not be tolerated.”

In my 1990 copy Dirr lists 3 cultivars, and my 2009 copy over 25. I’ve grown some, and have opinions. The marginal hardiness of the species means some may not grow quite as well as others. A popular cultivar, Hummingbird, while a gorgeous dwarf at only about 3′, was discovered by Fred Galle in Northern Florida, and suffers from severe dieback in our northern state.’Hummingbird’ can also succumb to a nearly unforgivable genetic floppiness, which hopefully the sibling ‘Sixteen Candles’ has not inherited. I prefer ‘Compacta’ for it’s better hardiness- it was found in Tom Dilatush’s brother’s garden, the seed transported from the New Jersey Pine barrens in some leafmold-although this is a harder find in a garden center,.

Pink is another color worth persuing in the Clethra cultivar world. Ignore ‘Rosea’ and ‘Pink Spires’, both hinting of a light pink, but barely blushing, and look for ‘Ruby Spice’, a sport off of a Pink Spires discovered at Broken Arrow Nursery in Connecticut. The rich rose red color holds throughout its entire bloom cycle, even in the heat of August.

Ruby Spice Summersweet

So why isn’t this just grown everywhere? As a plant for sale, Summersweet suffers several minor flaws that drove us crazy back in my garden center days. One is the fact it blooms late. While I can argue until I’m blue in the face that Clethra is integral to Any Garden, I was generally talking to myself, not customers, in the dog days of July and August, and our September shoppers were lured instead by the cheap thrills of red leaves and pumpkins. Springtime brought another headache. The species is very late to leaf out and show growth. So late, in fact, I’d taken to warning customers to not give up on the plant until the fourth of July, after too many experiecnes of seeing live plants return “dead” in May, an irate customer wanting their refund. They grow out of that. The plant, not the customer.

And when it does leaf out, it may leaf out low on the branch, suffering dieback. This seems to also happen to younger plants, although even my 10 year old plant still does this to some extent. The late bloom follows a long, late growing season, so this tender new growth may not have sufficent time to harden off before the Vermont winter. The plant blooms on new wood, so any dieback (or spring pruning) will not decrease flowers.

I’m sticking Summersweet everywhere I can on campus. Compacta is next to the main door at Emma Willard, tucked against the north side of the building. Ruby Spice is at the lower door. More plants are at Battell, and in a new planting in front of Pearson Hall. Another cultivar, Sherry Sue, sporting bright red stems and a large size, is planted on the north side of Axinn, where the last two winters have been a little tough on them, but I’m still rooting for it.