Gone in a moment

The storm rumbled over the Blue Ridge directly from the west so that winds swept over the nearby foothills and across the open lawns of neighboring homes. Few trees obstructed to slow the wind’s approach, so the first gusts crashed into the garden and the sliver of forest that borders the southeastern property line.

In the dark my wife and I could only watch out the back windows of the house, listening to the wailing of trees violently swaying in the gale and marveling at the booming thunder and lightning. Fortunately, we didn’t hear the snapping of trees or I would have been tempted to venture out to survey for damage since rain had not yet begun.

A quick inspection in the morning revealed tall tulip poplars ripped from the ground and large limbs of maples and poplars strewn along the wood’s edge, cracked and splintered like kindling. I was immediately thankful that I hadn’t gone outside for a closer look, and I’ll never again question the wisdom of staying out from under trees in a storm.

The garden fared slightly better, but at first glance I was convinced that all was well. There seemed little disturbance beyond twigs and leaves that littered the small areas of lawn. Then, I noticed that the fifteen foot tall mound of foliage beside the summer shade house was skewed to the side. The Seven Son tree (Heptacodium miconioides, in flower in better times, above) was lush with foliage and budding for August blooms, but now it was overturned onto its side. The trunk was snapped at the soil line, though there was no sign of rot.

The Seven Son tree had multiple trunks, similar to crapemyrtle, but its branches were more heavily cloaked in foliage so that pruning was often necessary to keep young branches from arching to the ground. When the first violent gusts struck, the top heavy tree with soft wood was no match for nature’s fury.

While continuing my disheartening inspection, I turned to see that half of one of two main trunks on the tall Dr. Merrill magnolia (Magnolia x loebneri ‘Dr. Merrill’, below) was missing. The trunk and branches were shredded to pieces which tumbled onto Korean Spice viburnums planted at its base. When the branches were cut to a manageable size and removed the viburnum sprung back with only minor scrapes and a small broken branch or two.

The magnolia will be salvaged, though I’ll not decide the fate of the broken trunk for several weeks. At least fifteen feet, and many side branches have been lost, and at first thought it seems unlikely that the trunk will not need to be removed completely. The second trunk is undamaged, but of course the tree that remains is half of the original, so there is a void that will look awkward for several years. Fortunately, the magnolia is nestled beside the forest so that the half tree will not stand out so drastically.

In a similar manner, the top third of one trunk of a a multi trunked river birch (Betula nigra) has broken so that it dangles several feet above my reach. I don’t believe the trunk can be repaired, so it’s likely that this trunk will be cut at the base, leaving two trunks. Again, this would look odd in the center of the garden, but it’s not. The tall birch is at the back corner, neatly hidden behind crapemyrtles, the yellow leafed redbud (Cercis canadensis ‘Hearts of Gold’), and a weeping katsura (Cercidiphyllum japonicium) that grows exuberantly, seemingly in every direction. The birch was planted ten years ago, and though it towers above the garden, my wife was unaware it was there.

For now, my concern is chopping the broken limbs into smaller pieces to dispose of, and then I’ll worry about the aesthetics of the trees later. The Seven Son tree must be replaced since it was a critical focal point in this part of the garden. I’m preparing to depart for a tour of tree nurseries (not for this purpose, but to purchase trees for the garden centers), so I’ll be looking out for a suitable specimen for this spot. I have several thoughts in mind, but I’ll not let on too early or I’m certain that commenters (including my wife) will boo and hiss at my choices.

Unfortunately, a second Seven Son tree is not a consideration. These are rarely grown in nurseries to any size, and I’m far too impatient (and old) to wait for a small tree to grow. This spring I purchased a small Dove tree (Davidia involucrata, above) that’s planted in a container since there was no room to plant it, and I would love to plant a larger one in this spot, except I’ve never seen a larger tree in a nursery.

The tree for this spot must appreciate full sun, and it must remain relatively small (under thirty feet, give or take a few feet). And, it must be at least a bit out of the ordinary, not a redbud or dogwood, or even a Japanese maple for this spot. I’m certain that sooner or later the answer will come to me.

………. Next, the bamboo and hornbeams are gone, but not forgotten.

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4 thoughts on “Gone in a moment

  1. Hi Dave,
    Sorry about your storm damage to your garden trees… We had a lot of creepy wind here in SC that just would gust and end quickly. Very hot hot 104 with heat index 114 and very strange weather. I was coming home from work yesterday around 5:50PM and a gust out of no where just appeared fast. Everyone on two lane road came to a stop for about 3 minutes. Woman in car next to me just looked at me and I could tell that we were both thinking (tornado?) It was strange and then gone. My truck was actually being pushed to the left… I knew that neither one of us knew what to do. I thought you were supposed to get under vehicle, but actually now may be a good time to look that up!
    Fortunately, only a few small branches in yard, but the heat continues…
    My Flowering Apricot seems to be doing well and American Smoke tree is growing well too! So far so good… Have a great evening.

    • I’m glad to hear the garden is going well. If trees have made it to this point in the year they’ll probably stick around for a while.

      Unfortunately, this storm was not isolated to a small area. It was sixty miles across, and there was some damage over a large area. I’m fortunate that I lost only a few trees. There are plenty of photos around of crushed cars and houses from large trees faliing. It does no good to sulk over lost trees. There’s an opportunity to try some new plants.

  2. Sorry about the heptacodium. I have seen fairly large ones (about 12′) for sale at Weston Nurseries up here in Massachusetts, in case you still want to replace it… In any case, I’ll be curious to know what you decide.

    • Though I would never have removed the Seven Son tree, part of the enjoyment of the garden is discovery, so now I’ll move on to something else. It’s interesting that few nurseries grow and sell trees much out of the ordinary. I’ve witnessed that the general garden center buying customer, and even landscape architects and designers, opt for the safe, well known varieties, so there’s no proven market for much else except the basics.

      Having a garden is an opportunity to experiment. Besides making misjudgments and planting without adequate space so trees grow into each other, there is little harm in trying unfamiliar trees, and most often they turn out to be wonderful choices.

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