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Tree Stumps

Published in the six Nashoba Publishing papers on Friday, 7 June 2002

Only half of the branches leafed out this spring on our big maple in front of the house, and it was dropping big limbs. Yesterday Arborist Don Massucco cut out the dead wood. I can't help wondering how much longer the tree will live.

Is there any way to let a tree in town die naturally? The tree's not close to wires, or the house... but we didn't feel we could rely on falling branches not doing damage. We'll probably have to have more cut down next year ...and eventually will have to decide what to do with the stump.

When an oak died in the back yard, we paid to have the stump ground down; I could cover what was left with soil right away (though each spring afterwards, I've had to add more because the surface slumps as the roots rot). The maple, however, is growing right in the middle of a stone retaining wall between two levels of terracing on a hill; big roots are built into the wall on either side of the trunk. I don't think it's practical to try to grind it.

How do you integrate a stump into a garden? My first thought is to use it as a pedestal, put something interesting on it. A big pot of bright-colored, sun-loving geraniums? Already I can grow a lot more sun-lovers there; I'll have full sun without the tree. Eventually the stump will start to decay, making interesting grotto-shapes; I'll be able to scoop it out some and plant something _in_ it. Something that will enjoy the rich organic matter of the rotting wood, like a 'John Elsey' cranesbill -- dark-veined, carmine flowers; heat resistant, long blooming; can take some drought....

In the eighteenth century, English landscape designers became fascinated with the look of wilderness, and imitated it in estate plantings. One picture I saw featured a dead tree, which at the time I thought was grotesque. Now I'm curious: what shapes would our maple take as it died, if I didn't have to cut it down? What might grow up them, rooting into the pulpy wood?

In Howard Park I like to look at the stumps of trees that have fallen naturally. They aren't flat across the top, but jagged. Lichens and moss cover them; partridge berry and wintergreen spread over them; an occasional blueberry bush or pine sapling takes root in them and rises triumphantly from the decay. I'm enchanted by all of this; it looks quite magical. These living sculptures make me think of fairy castles.

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© Copyright 2002 Catherine Holmes Clark