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My Giant Bonsai

Ten years I'd been trying to clean out the hedgerow between our back yard and Pearl Russell's. Dense, wild spiderwort, oozing its sticky sap when you touch it, mats of invasive lily-of-the valley, thorny but not very pretty wild roses, ragweed, colorful but too prolific wild phlox and lady's rocket.. . and lots of stuff I didn't bother to identify ...were tangled in a mess with young maples, oaks, and wild cherry trees, and with a medium-large elm that had sprouted two smaller elms from the same root system, but were not well-formed or attractive, any of them.

First I got the trash trees cut down, including the big elm. Neighborhood kids and I dug the weeds—and remaining saplings—by hand, shovelful by shovelful. Tiny little oaks had taproots three feet deep. The spiderwort roots were so brittle they'd break pieces off when we shook clumps to get the soil out. And then they would sprout again in a week or two, from the pieces! We had to throw topsoil away with the plants.

For three years we tried to kill all the stumps by simply removing new growth when it came—but it got away from us too fast, and was going to take forever.

Matt Busceglia, of Townsend, brought over his medium-sized backhoe and cleaned the stumps out. The elm produced a 6-foot ball of densely tangled roots; I would never have been able to get a shovel into the ground to plant anything else as long as those were there.

As I made plans to amend the sandy soil, I fussed about the other reason the spot was dry: a 90-foot white pine at the end of the hedgerow, right next to Pearl's garage. Suddenly it hit me: I could remove the water thief, too.

I found a responsible arborist, Paul McCracken, of Leominster, who could lift the monster down in pieces with his crane, protecting the garage. I persuaded Ward, who ws reluctant; he has a special feeling about trees.

Then landscaper George Hayes, of Lunenburg, came over. "You're taking that down? You can't take that down! It's a healthy tree, it's a crime! I looked at Ward, and I knew I had lost him. I argued with George, "but look at all those dead branches." "Character!" he boomed. And damned if I didn't start seeing what had been a giant weed, as a giant bonsai.

It's still there.

© Copyright 1998 and 2004 Catherine Holmes Clark


Published in the six Nashoba Publications papers on Friday, 23 January 2004

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For more information

George Hayes, Hayes Landscaping, Pepperell: 978.433.6236. 6'3"

Matt Busceglia (small backhoe jobs), Townsend: 978.597.8357

Paul McCracken, McCracken Tree Service, Leominster: 800.287.6675