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MUSC Arboretum

Happy New Year 2014

Message from the Arborist...

When the New College at Oxford was founded in 1379, someone had the foresight to plant and ensure the care and protection of oak trees that would be used 500 years later to replace the giant 2’x2’x40’ oak beams that support the ceiling of the grand dining hall (and other construction necessary to maintain the facility over the centuries).  I love the forester’s reply when the administration asked him if there were any oak trees to be used for this purpose. “Well sirs, we were wonderin’ when you’d be askin’[about those trees]."

There is also a story of a European Cathedral that, as the workers were finishing it up, they planted a couple rows of Oak trees along the side of the cathedral knowing that in 100 to 150 years the beams of that cathedral were going to need to be replaced. It was important to the workers that they have the right kind of wood and that it was the correct size.

Cave Hill Cemetery is Louisville’s only arboretum. For over 150 years, Cave Hill has been, “blessed by a succession of competent and innovative landscape gardeners.” From generation to generation of caretaker they have all planned and carefully thought out what plants to put in place, how to space them and how to create and maintain this, “controlled naturalistic environment where trees, shrubs, waterfowl and family memorials blend together to form the beautiful panorama of a traditional rural cemetery.” One of the many philosophies at Cave Hill is, “forever, for the future.”

These three examples of long term planning are in stark contrast to many landscape design (and development and business in general) philosophies these days: plant, build and profit for today. In newer landscapes, instead of choosing just a few plants and allowing them to reach their full potential, we seem to be looking for something that is much more short term. It is common to see bunches of plants crammed together where two or three plants would be more appropriate and would fill the space in time. Then we prune and manipulate these over-plantings to maintain them within that space. The short term view is also applied to urban trees. It is well known and seems to have been accepted that the average life span of a street tree is seven to 15 years. This is almost always due to limited soil space and poor soil conditions. However, there are ways to plant trees and supply the soil space that they need to survive and provide benefits to a second and third generation.

As we celebrate the passing of time and the arrival of a new year, let us be reminded that the planning, planting and care of trees is for something much bigger than ourselves. “It's a wise man who plants a tree under whose shade he will never sit,” and whose timber he will never see milled and utilized. Plant a tree today!

Happy New Year from the MUSC Arboretum.


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