Tag Archives: yard

Tree from hell?

Well, that’s what I like to call them. But their common name is Tree of heaven, while your horticulturist or arborist may refer to their proper botanical name: Ailanthus altissima.

Why don’t I like this species? Because they are the quintessential weed tree. They produce seeds in large numbers that readily germinate. Those that survive and grow on are usually in undisturbed places, right along building foundations, path edges, fence lines, etc.

 

You blink once and the tender seedling has grown into a small plant. You turn your head away for too long, and the small plants explodes into a small tree. They do this so fast that people often give up removing them because they now seem to big to rip out.

 

And it’s not just the Tree of heaven. Other common weed tree species that exhibit this tendency are Mulberry trees, Elm trees, and some maples.

We had one massive Tree of heaven and a Mulberry tree at the northwest corner of our house with roots all the way into our basement. Both trees made me real nervous and I had them taken down.

All I had left now was one larger Tree of heaven in the southeast corner of our vacant lot that I wanted to see go too.

Please don’t conclude that I just don’t like trees. I do like them, but they need to be in the right place and a suitable species. Cathy and I were eager to have an apple tree in that back corner, so calling in the chain saw wasn’t a hard decision.

To make sure the Tree of heaven doesn’t grow back from the stump we spent a few extra dollars and had it ground out. I remember digging up stumps like this in the old days. But I have to admit, I like standing near the stump grinder and watching the wood chips fly much better!

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Finishing weaving and a closing thought

In our trilogy of parkway rain gardens, I had one more cell to go, which is also the largest cell. Snow was looming on the horizon and I was hoping to finish the weaving of the fence panels before I would freeze my fingers off.

Well, I got done just in time, but I had to wait all winter before I could fully vegetate the rain garden cell. This was a test of my patience.

Demographics

Building the parkway knee fence and rain garden cells took me down memory lane – to our sustainable pilot project, One Drop at a Time, in Elmhurst, Ill. The rain gardens, green roof, rain barrels, and porous pavement at this project caught quite a little bit of attention.

 

The running joke was that whenever I stepped into the front yard of the Elmhurst project I got no work done because of the questions from, and conversations with, passers-by. Thirty minutes of uninterrupted work was unheard of.

Fast forward to our Chicago project: As I mentioned in the last blog post, I began to enjoy plenty of interaction with passers-by while working on the parkway fence. By my observation, the volume of conversations, the level of curiosity, and number of compliments seemed no different than what I had experienced in Elmhurst.

Yet these two communities, North Lawndale and Elmhurst, have completely different demographics and appear to be at opposite ends in the income spectrum.

To demonstrate the point, I picked data from the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) Community Data Snapshots and summarized them in the table below.

For complete data set on North Lawndale, see:

http://www.cmap.illinois.gov/documents/10180/126764/North+Lawndale.pdf

For complete data set on Elmhurst, see:

http://www.cmap.illinois.gov/documents/10180/102881/Elmhurst.pdf

This brings me full circle and back to the quote by the late Charles Leeks, former director of the North Lawndale NHS office.

“People who live in poor communities […] are entitled to good design. I’d love to see good buildings, an aesthetically engaging place. … [A] smart, clever, interesting place to live—and one that looks good.”

Source: THE JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN INSTITUTE OF ARCHITECTS

In this highly segregated environment, whether it is racial or income related, it is easy to overlook that some things are universal. We all share a thirst for an expression of care in our landscape combined with physical expressions that instill beauty, and a landscape that stimulates.

Just because North Lawndale doesn’t have the resources for attractive landscapes doesn’t mean that they would not be appreciated.

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Talking while weaving

Even though the weather was turning cooler, I just got warmed up weaving the fence panels on our first rain garden cell in the parkway. Now that I had figured out the details and nuances, I was on a roll – or should I say loom?

And with each panel completed, our parkway landscape started to look better, even though I had nothing planted yet.

Community

We are always interested in community outreach, sharing with others what we are doing and why. We use this blog as a community outreach tool. We had several open houses where we invited the community to see our progress for themselves and ask us questions. I still accommodate groups that are interested in touring our project.

Despite all these efforts, we’ve had a hard time reaching the community closest to us, our neighbors in North Lawndale. Interest in and awareness of what we are doing to the house, and why, has grown over the years. But in the busy lives of our neighbors, and everyone’s daily struggle, the deep energy retrofit subject was not a priority. Plus, some of its aspects are rather abstract and eventually hidden behind drywall. There are few visuals that get people excited about, with the exception of our heating bill.

But once I started to work on the parkway rain gardens, interaction skyrocketed. I was doing stuff that was hard to overlook and that nobody expected to see in the neighborhood. Passers-by wanted to know what I was up to.

  

Interactions ranged from compliments on our work, to questions about what we were doing. Compliments and questions came from grown ups passing by and the kids leaving school down the street from us. A number of times, parents picking up their kids from school took them over to the parkway when I was working and asked me to explain to them what I was doing.

And of course, I mentioned the four brothers who helped me excavate the rain garden. We had some really good conversations, and they riddled me with questions until there was nothing left of me.

This was the fun part of putting the fence together, and I really enjoyed it!

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Winterizing the rain barrel

Did you notice that jumbo ice cubes for cocktails are all the rage? How about a 250 gallon mega ice cube? That would be my full rain barrel frozen solid.

Well, maybe not. I would like to keep using it next season and rather not have it burst because it froze. To protect it from any winter damage, I went through the task of winterizing in early December before freezing temperatures settled in for good.

Come springtime, I’ll basically reverse the winterization steps and have it back in operation in no time.

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Un-freaking believable!

This is not a proud episode, because I unintentionally exercised cruel and unusual punishment.

Last fall, one of my clients let me salvage a small hickory from their yard that otherwise would have been cut down. But the salvaging quickly turned into butchering.

I am not sure if there is a word for upside-down decapitating. If there is, that is what I did to the hickory: I cut off its vital two inch tap root in the transplanting process. Not only that, but I also hauled it for 40 miles in the back of my truck during that warm and dry fall day.

hickory-02

Back at my house, what was left of any leaves looked like dried tobacco and crumbled upon touch. I still planted the poor fellow, yet had no expectation that it would survive.

And that seemed to be its fate. By late May, everything around us had leafed out, except that dry stick in our park way, which once was a proud hickory. Even my neighbors noted and inquired if I would remove it.

Before going down that route, I cut off the very tip of a lower branch – and detected some green cambium behind the bark. Was it really there or was it something that I wanted to be there? In any case, it was a good excuse to delay the removal for a little longer.

By mid June, I got confirmation that the green cambium wasn’t wishful seeing on my part. This resilient son of a bitch developed buds, which kept growing and eventually exploded into leaves.

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Un-freaking believable!

I should also disclose that I poured a five gallon pail of water at the tree base pretty much every day since late April. And thanks to my new rain barrel, I continue to do so.

Yet, this is still a very tenuous situation!

While we had days with dry and hot wind in late June, some of the leaves started to dry up again. I kept watering and it looks like I was able to stop that trend.

Have no doubt. This fellow will take a few years to recover from my butchering. I am just glad I didn’t kill it after all – yet.

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