Art Around Campus

Around the end of the term, our department starts seeing all sorts of outdoor art appear out of nowhere. It generally seems to involve trees, with varying degrees of consternation on our part. (yeah, I worry too much) Truthfully, most of the art is very respectful of the trees, and the environment, and disappears as quickly as it is born.

Once in a while, though, a particular piece jumps out. I don’t know the artist, the class, or the professor, but hats off to this piece. Next to one of our favorite trees, a massive Black Willow disintegrating before our very eyes, this piece (don’t even know the name) has captured, I think, the spirit of the surrondings perfectly. I’m no critic, and the only art classes I’ve had are in landscape design, but I know what I like. And, to whoever made this piece, well, I’ll quote my grandfather when I’d graduated high school. “You done good”.

Fall of a Giant

Trees are very intentional in their choices, by necessity. It’s a cruel world in the forest, and nature does not give a lot of second chances. Over millions of years trees and other woody plants have evolved very specific ways to grow, reproduce, and die, and much of this is predicated by growing together in communities in the forest

When a tree is growing by itself in a lawn and not in a forest setting, sometimes these mechanisms break down and don’t work. An example of this is the failure of one of my favorite trees on campus, a well known and well loved European Beech on the southwest corner of Battell Beach.

Beech Tree in 2008

Many in our community will recognize this tree, I’ve seen people enjoying it for years. It’s a popular tree with slackliners, as well as hammock denizens. A low, broad spreading canopy gave a dense shade dappled with just enough sunlight to make it not quite feel cave-like. This beech, like some of the elms on campus, had a cathedral-like structure that made the tree feel like it’s own room, but this one was close enough to some major sidewalks that there was never a feeling of isolation.

One of the ways trees have evolved to live in a forest is to shed branches safely. Picture a forest community, with all it’s upper branches reaching for the light, growing every year skyward. Lower branches become shaded and unproductive, and these must be dropped rather than wasting upwards energy trying to sustain them. Trees have very specific branch attachments, so when a branch dies the tree can compartmentalize where the branch was, not allowing ddecay and fungus to spread into the main trunk.

In order for this to happen, the branch needs to be smaller than the piece it is attached upon. Sometimes, particularly in urban trees, the branches or trunks will be similar size, and this will cause a weak union, often made worse with included bark between the union.

The base of the Battell Beach Beech (couldn’t help myself there) was three trunks of similar size all attachted at the root flare, with an oddball trunk or two thrown in. All three had cankers at the base, and all had included bark in the union. Friday afternoon, on a calm day with zero wind or rain, one of these trunks had had enough, falling away, dropping nearly a third of the crown.

It’s possible this could have been prevented, at least in the short term. Other trees on campus have similarly weak attachments, and we’ve preserved these trees by careful pruning, or sometimes cables and brace rods. However, these beech not only had bad trunks, but large cankers (dead areas) were on all of the trunks, further compromising it’s health. Any interventions we could have done probably would have been for naught, or worst case made the tree worse.

With one of the trunks gone and the other trunk union between the two stems also weak, this tree is now much more structurally unstable than before the trunk fell away. We’ll be removing the rest of the tree before the start of the fall semester. While we sometimes don’t replant where trees have been removed, this is such a great location for a tree that’ll it’ll be high on the priority list.

Leaf Blowers-An Apology, of sorts

Landscaping is pretty non-controversial, for the most part. After all, we’re out there, in all weather, making things better. Healthier trees, mown grass, clean and safe walkways, to name just a couple of things we do. In fact, I dare say, we’re only unpopular one time of the year, and we’re right in the middle of it now. Leaf Blower season. Continue reading Leaf Blowers-An Apology, of sorts

The Vermont Flower Show

Much like the Shameless Commerce division of Car Talk, I’m veering slightly from the ‘educational institution’ blog to plug one of the finest things you should be doing this winter, which is attending the Vermont Flower Show at the Champlain Valley Fairgrounds in Essex Junction, on March 4-6.

It’s been my pleasure to help set up this show for many, many years (10, 15?) I was the central display designer twice-a herculean task that was one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. I look at set up for the show much like baseball players going to spring training, the smell of soil and green plants, the movement of mulch fork and shovel getting your muscles in shape for the upcoming year.

I’ll tell you what goes into the display, but you won’t believe me. More than 150 yards of mulch ( a yard of mulch fits in the back of a small pickup truck), an entire commercial greenhouse of forced bulbs, hundreds of perennials, and trees and shrubs forced for blooms as well. Yes, entire trees. We’re a little crazy, admittably. And that’s just the plant material. Read about more of the design for more of the scoop, including a sketch of the design.

What makes the construction of the flower show all the more remarkable, though, is the hardest to explain. At most flower shows, individual landscapers and garden centers construct their own booths, miniature landscapes amongst a green mall for a week or weekend. In Vermont, though, the green industry is a little smaller, and not many firms have the resources to pull off a booth of forced plant material. So, many years ago, the Vermont Nursery and Landscape Association teamed up to hold a flower show, then at the Sheraton, where everybody got together and built one central display, for the betterment of the industry on the whole. Competitors the rest of the year, everybody teams up and shares tasks, and creates a spring world inside on a snowy weekend.

There are many other things to do at the show as well, not just walking through the central display. The admission price alone is a steal for all the talks and hands-on seminars that are possible to attend, and kids have their own room to ‘craft’ in as well. There are even cooking demostrations, along with vendors selling gardening merchandise, and plants. I dare you to walk out of there without some forced flowers in your hand.