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The Twelve Oldest Trees on Campus

Categories: Landscape, Trees

Middlebury Magazine asked me to help with a story a month or so ago-they were looking for the 10 oldest trees on campus. Naturally, I gave them 12. There were a couple I just couldn’t leave off, and I walk around and still see a couple more I should have added.

Our campus features many spectacular trees, but surprisingly none of them are very old. Charles Baker Wright, Professor Emeritus of Rhetoric and English Literature , in the Middlebury College News Letter of 1931 talks of the story of campus trees, and how early in the history of the college was an old time notion that “trees wouldn’t grow on that hillside”, and how finally in about the 1830’s trees were planted wholesale, so thick that 70 years later Old Stone Row was a ‘veritable thicket’. Other areas of campus were likewise barren of trees, but didn’t have the donations to plant like near the Row. (as always, click on the picture for larger version) (especially to see the guys in the top hats)

Painter Hall in 1879

Painter Hall in 1879

Painter Hall 2014 Note large Sugar Maple in picture, smaller in picture above

Painter Hall 2014
Note large Sugar Maple in picture, smaller in picture above

Some of the more dramatic pictures were taken along the back of Old Stone Row, on the road that was called Waldo Avenue.

Starr Hall 1890

Starr Hall 1890

Starr Hall 2014

Starr Hall 2014

Old Chapel 1875

Old Chapel 1875

Old Chapel 1895

Old Chapel 1895 

 

Old Chapel 2014

Old Chapel 2014

Another sad chapter in the arboreal history of Middlebury is Dutch elm disease, which you can read much more about on other pages in this blog. Many areas presently bare of canopy from shade trees are previous Elm locations. This is not all bad-views from Old Chapel Road to Mead Chapel are greatly enhanced by the clear lines of sight.

A football game in 1900. Note the large elms along the west side of Painter Hall.

A football game in 1900. Note the large elms along the west side of Painter Hall.

Same view 2014

Same view 2014

The Spring issue of the Middlebury newsletter in 1981. Those are elm trees lining Mead Chapel walkway behind the May pole (which Facilities still has stored somewhere!)

The Spring issue of the Middlebury newsletter in 1981. Those are elm trees lining Mead Chapel walkway behind the May pole (which Facilities still has stored somewhere!)

 

2014-no May pole, and sadly no costumes.

2014-no May pole, and sadly no costumes.

Mead Chapel 1942

Mead Chapel 1942

Mead Chapel 2014

Mead Chapel 2014

Trees have a lifespan, like us, and it may be useful to think about tree years the way many people think about Dog years, but with no set figure to multiply.  A redwood is ancient at 2000 years old, Bristlecone Pines date to 3500 years old, while a Poplar tree is old at 40. I’d venture to say an old tree for Vermont is 300, with precious few of them remaining.

A great grandma of all the trees on the Middlebury campus is a spectacular Bur Oak on the north side of the Mahaney Center for the Arts. Fellow horticulturists have estimated an age of easily 250 years old. Even in tree years, this one’s sitting on the porch rocker being waited on hand and foot. Trees like this, particularly oaks, were often left as boundary markers for property, and would be referenced in deeds and other legal documents. Aerial photographs of the area show this tree sitting next to Porter Fields, the combination baseball/soccer fields for years. It was there long before Baseball. I’ve written about this tree before.

Bur Oak at the Mahaney Center for the Arts

Bur Oak at the Mahaney Center for the Arts

Paper Birch is, like all birch, an early successional tree, born to live fast, set seed, and die young. This tree isn’t very old in human years (I’m guessing about 85-90), but a mature birch is only 45-50. Proof that the right tree in the right spot will do wonderful things. This tree would be a grandparent too, one of those impatient ones yelling at the grandkids to keep off the lawn. It is safe to assume this birch was planted by the former owners of the house (the McKinley’s, I think, as that is what we call the house). Paper birch is an extremely popular landscape tree, but prone to many diseases which shorten the lifespan.

Paper Birch at the McKinley House

Paper Birch at the McKinley House

Nearby there is an elm along Route 30 next to the field house. I often wonder about all the construction it’s been watching over the years. Our guess is about 175-200 years old, an old survivor from when elms were transplanted from the woods to line the rudimentary roads of the new country. Old photographs show elms lining both Route 30 and 125, and we work hard to save the few that remain. This one’s middle aged in tree years, elms can go for many decades more than this one has been around.

American Elm at Field House

American Elm at Field House

Norway Spruce grow fast when young, and get leisurely in their middle age. The massive Norway spruce north of McCullough was planted as part of a windbreak to protect the athletic fields next to the gym. Photographs from 1890 show already mature trees next to the baseball field, making this spruce easily over 150 years old. This tree is unusual for a Norway spruce in that the main stems are going through reiteration-the bottom stems forming entirely new trees, so looking up from the base into the canopy of this tree one would see multiple trees sharing a single trunk. This is much more common in Redwoods, but clearly this spruce dreams big.

Norway Spruce

Norway Spruce

 

Old Stone Row and the Main Quad in 1890-the large Norway spruce is in the closer row

Old Stone Row and the Main Quad in 1890-the large Norway spruce is in the closer row

Old Stone Row and the Main Quad 2014

Old Stone Row and the Main Quad 2014

Another perspective on teh spruce row-1892

Another perspective on the spruce row-1892

Same perspective as above 2014

Same perspective as above 2014

Hepburn Hall in 1929

Hepburn Hall in 1929

Hepburn Hall 2014

Hepburn Hall 2014

Up the hill from the spruce is a Black Walnut, probably 80-100 years old. It’s a middle aged tree as well, but was part of the extensive gardens of Maude Mason planted to the south of Hepburn. Most walnuts live to about 150 years old, but in the right location (which I hope this spot is) can go over 400.

Black Walnut at Hepburn

Black Walnut at Hepburn

This walnut was probably planted as part of extensive gardens to the south of Hepburn at the beginning of the century. There was an old cottage nearby as well. The only remnants left of this landscape is a small garden with a plaque on the top of Stewart Hill dedicated to Maude Owen Mason, ‘who planned and planted and tended it from 1916 till 1937′. The garden has since been overcome by Mugo pine, a great example of breaking Tim’s first rule of landscaping-‘If it looks good when it goes in, it’s too crowded’.

Hepburn Hall Gardens in  1937

Hepburn Hall Gardens in 1937

Hepburn Hall 2014

Hepburn Hall 2014

 

The former Battell Cottage, now known as Adirondack House, has two very large Austrian Pines in the front yard facing Route 125. A picture from 1929 shows one of them fully mature, making these an impressive 150 years old or more. In tree years, very old.

Austrian Pines at Adirondack House

Austrian Pines at Adirondack House

Adirondack House-1929 Austrian Pine on right side

Adirondack House-1929
Austrian Pine on right side

Adirondack House 2014

Adirondack House 2014

3 Black Maples, a close relative of Sugar Maple, remain in a row along Storrs Walk next to Old Chapel. This is the area of campus heavily planted in the 1830’s, and these are the only remaining trees left. At 185 years old they are reaching the end of their typical lifespan, but we are actively preserving them, and hopefully will be around much longer. I’ve written of Black maples in the past.

Black Maples at Old Chapel

Black Maples at Old Chapel

Old Chapel -1895

Old Chapel -1895

Old Chapel 2014

Old Chapel 2014

Old Chapel 1900

Old Chapel 1900

Old Chapel 2014

Old Chapel 2014

Old Stone Row 1910-Black Maples in center background of picture

Old Stone Row 1910-Black Maples in center background of picture

Old Stone Row 2014-Black Maple in center left of picture

Old Stone Row 2014-Black Maple in center left of picture

A photograph from 1947 shows a couple of Sycamore trees planted alongside the road across from the Student Union Building, where Proctor is now. The trees were reaching maturity then, so they are only 85 years old, but one is massively large, once again the right tree in the right spot. So much for trees not growing on that hillside.

Sycamore near Proctor

Sycamore near Proctor

Old Student Union Building-(where Proctor is now) -1947 Sycamore tree in center of photo

Old Student Union Building-(where Proctor is now) -1947
Sycamore tree in center of photo

Same view 2014

Same view 2014

Another view 2014

Another view 2014

Near the Gravity monument by Warner science is a Littleleaf Linden, a tree the British call Lime trees. This one sets the state record for size, with an estimate of age of over 100 years. Its growth rate has slowed considerably; she’s reaching old age gracefully now.

Littleleaf Linden at Warner Science

Littleleaf Linden at Warner Science

Aerial photographs from 1942 show the Pin Oak to the south of FIC gracing the front yard of a house there, with Chateau in the back yard. We estimate this tree at about 125 years old, a teenager for an oak.

Pin Oak by FIC

Pin Oak by FIC

Same aerial photograph-an apple planted next to what looks like gardens. This makes sense, as that entire area of campus has a proliferation of Pear trees similarly old we know nothing about. This tree is probably about the same age as the Pin Oak, but quite a bit older in Tree years.

Apple tree by Coffrin

Apple tree by Coffrin

The oldest tree (in tree years) on the campus is also one of the youngest in human years. Yellowwood is a pretty little tree with Beech like bark and pendulous white flowers in the early summer. The tree tends to branch low with multiple trunks, and falls apart after 50 years or so. Ours is probably 75, with multiple steel brace rods holding the trunks together.

Yellowwood tree by Hadley Milliken

Yellowwood tree by Hadley Milliken

Many thanks to the Digital Media archives, where I spent an enjoyable day in front of the woodstove on the laptop-any use of their pictures should go through them (I’m talking to you, Pinterest) All new pictures are my own.

Middlebury’s Elm Collection

Categories: Landscape, Trees

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: Trees

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: Trees

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: Atwater Contest

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: Atwater Contest

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: Atwater Contest, Random Thoughts

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: Landscape

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.

The Most Beautiful College Campuses

Categories: Random Thoughts

Forbes recently wrote an article on The World’s Most Beautiful College Campuses. A nice slide show is included in the article, if you can ignore the pervasive advertising in it. Take a look at the Middle Path at Kenyon College, or one of my personal favorites, the campus of Wellesly College, designed by Frederick Law Olmstead Jr., of Central Park fame, and, closer to home, designer of Shelburne Farms.

Main Quad Tree Removal

Categories: Trees

While we dislike removing trees, sometimes we must. The Landscape Department is overseeing the removal of some hazardous trees in the main quad over winter recess. (We like removing trees over recesses–there is no pedestrian traffic and hopefully the ground will be frozen enough so we don’t make much of a mess.)  Since the trees are in a very prominent location, we’ve been consulting with the President’s Staff, as well as the Master Plan Committee, and all are in agreement about the removals. When finished, the look and feel of the main quad will be very different, yet much improved. And, in a bit of synergy, the work aligns with Campus Master Plan. More