Reality Bites

Marjorie Harris discovers that making dreams come true isn’t so easy, especially when it comes to trees.

I love winter because I can go wild with ideas for the following season. Winter means looking at my garden in a way impossible to do in spring and summer when things are really burgeoning. Now that summer?s here, I realize half of what I wanted to do is either impossible or ridiculous.

Last winter, I decided to move big trees. My arborist Derek didn?t say, ?What a nitwit.? He pointed out that it would involve several men, a couple of big holes and a lot of damage to shift things the way I saw them in my head. I put these trees in the wrong place, and waited too long before realizing that they should be moved. The old garden truism of right plant, right place is never so true as when you are planting trees.

I?ve done my duty?planting more trees that clean the air, offer cooling shade and provide homes for wildlife. In fact, I?ve put in about 40 of them. If that sounds a little crowded, it is. Most of them, such as Japanese maples and Eastern redbud, are smaller trees (from 20 to 30 feet) and a few, such as dawn redwood and Kentucky coffee tree, are giants (80 to 100 feet). I don?t care about the latter because I?ll be dead before they get anywhere near that size. It?s the little ones that are worrisome.

Think of trying to haul 25 feet of tree through a narrow space jammed with plants, and you?ll understand my dilemma. With summer?s arrival, I can see clearly how hard this will be, and I may just have to live with my design mistakes for the sake of plant survival.

Studying tags is one road to plant education?most give a plant?s ultimate height and width?but taking them seriously? Can you really imagine how a 40-foot tree with a 25-foot spread will look? I don?t think most of us can. I get to 10 feet and become visually confused.

Perennials are a little easier?most are a manageable four feet or less. But what about the middle-aged spread that happens in a couple of years? Leaving adequate space between plants is absolutely crucial. Of course, any normal gardener wants instant impact, but jamming things in can lead to plant disease and death. It helps to think in terms of time frames: three months before an annual struts its stuff; three years before a perennial garden settles down; and maybe a decade before a tree shows its true genetic destiny.

But I defy anyone dazzled by nursery offerings right now to be realistic about all these things. That?s why I love gardeners so much: they are sort of crazy, filled with illusions of grandeur, and will try anything?even if it?s as nutty as attempting to move around big trees for the sake of a gorgeous effect.