Don’t mind these lines beneath my eyes
They’re well-earned souvenirs
Of a thousand nights of laughter
And occasional tears
— Frank Sinatra, How Old Am I?
Can you imagine an older person without a few lines and wrinkles? It’s the same with trees. Look around now — before the leaves cover everything — and you’ll see plenty of so-called imperfections.
But are they really imperfections? Or, as the song lyrics suggest, are they well-earned souvenirs? I say it’s the latter, the result of the twists and turns and cuts and scrapes of life. They’re the scars of everyday living. That’s character.
Yes, I know about the importance of pruning. Not too long ago, I paid $750 to have some limbs taken off an old silver maple — limbs that could have been clipped with hand pruners 30 years ago. That’s the danger of letting a large tree develop multiple trunks. That’s also why I encourage gardeners to prune early, while trees are young.
But wouldn’t it be boring if nature only produced telephone poles? I prefer something with more architectural appeal. These two trees sprouted a bit too close for comfort. As a result, they developed into mirror images of each other. From a horticultural point of view, it’s a mistake. Artistically speaking, it’s intriguing.
Then there’s this double-trunked specimen, which was upended in a storm. That leaning limb is still attached and clinging to life. Hemmed in by another tree, it’s probably not an immediate threat. So why not enjoy it as a living work of art until the woodpile needs replenishing?
Sometimes a tree’s unique form can come from an unexpected source. See that tree doing a curtsy? Its shape is due to a tough strand of barbed-wire fencing holding its ground. Take a bow, Mr. Elm, you’re the star of this hedgerow!
Black walnut makes for some pricey lumber. But this tree, couldn’t catch the fancy of a lumberjack even if it was wrapped in red plaid and served flapjacks for breakfast. Having lost its top, the tree is perpetually stuck doing the YMCA dance. On a smaller species, this would be a harmless diversion — and a fun one at that! But walnuts grow large, and this one’s near a house. In this case, it’s probably best to take care of the structural issues before a tree surgeon is needed.
Oh, if only someone had done that with the silver maple at my house. I’d be $750 richer today.
Editor’s note: You can get plenty of character in smaller species without risking problems down the road. Compact trees are available in contorted, weeping, pyramidal, columnar, and topiary forms.
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