When we were looking for a new place to live, we were astonished at the beauty of the place we discovered. Giant oak trees towered over the house; shagbark hickories marked the corners of the plot. The garden, clearly definable despite the weeds, was bordered by old-fashioned purple raspberry plants. There was asparagus, elderberries, forsythia, rose bushes, and evergreen trees of pine, fir and balsam, arching spirea, pear trees, plum trees, grape vines and more. It was a little slice of paradise.
How lucky we were! Much of the landscaping had been chosen to feed or shelter wildlife or to provide food for the dinner table. The former owners left living reminders of themselves and their love of nature. This holiday season, talk with your family about what ways you would like to leave your mark on the world by planting something for future generations, such as a tree, a shrub, or perennial fruits and vegetables.
Perhaps one of the most-admired but seldom planted trees is the oak. Pin oaks, white oaks, burr oaks and red oaks are renowned for their strength, their beauty and their longevity. Oaks are slow growers and the tree you plant today won’t mature in your lifetime. You may never see this tree reach majestic heights, but your children and grandchildren will.
Who among us hasn’t admired the brilliant colors of a maple tree in the fall, enjoyed the nuts of the stately shagbark hickory tree or sat in the shade of a fast-growing river birch? Surprisingly, purchasing trees need not break the bank. You can purchase small hardwood seedlings for less than $10 per tree. www.chiefrivernursery.com.
For food as well as beauty plant fruit trees. Dwarf and semi-dwarf varieties are easy to harvest and should produce fruit in as little as 3 years. Improved hybrids offer resistance to common diseases. If there’s no room for trees, but you still want fruit, plant a row of raspberries. Everbearing raspberries are easy to manage. Early each spring, just mow down the canes to 1” tall. The canes quickly regrow for a bountiful fall harvest. An arbor of grapes provides both beautiful arched shade as well as a chance to experiment with wine making.
We’re still eating asparagus from the patch we inherited 30 years ago, and it was a mature patch even then. Now is the perfect time to plant a row or two of these delicious green spears. Eat the spears in the spring and enjoy the beauty of the airy fronds all summer long.
Remember the wildlife. Evergreen trees and shrubs provide shelter for the birds from the harsh winds of winter. Many spring-flowering shrubs provide both the beauty of their spring blossoms as well as summer or fall fruit, popular with the birds. Consider planting highbush cranberry (Viburnum trilobum), Serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis), Cornelian Cherry (Cornus mas) or Native Spicebush (Lindera benzoin). All provide beauty and berries.
We’ve lived on this parcel for 30 years now. When comparing photos of then and now, I am amazed at the new growth. The Colorado blue spruce, barely 4’ tall when we moved here, towers over its nearby building. A volunteer oak seedling has grown to 15’. We have planted and harvested apples, cherries, grapes and peaches. In addition, we are still enjoying the beauty and the bounty of what was planted before us.
Gardening is an investment in the future, whether that future is a tomato harvest in late summer or a giant oak in 100 years. All the beauty that surrounds us is a living memorial for those who came before us. Plant your own legacy. Future generations will thank you.
Beverly Carney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.