I recall as a young child climbing a crabapple that grew adjacent to the walk that led to our family’s small apartment in Langley Park, Maryland. At the time the crab seemed huge, and I sensed the danger in swinging from branch to branch, dangling “high” above the concrete. Of course, I know now that the crab could not have been an inch taller than fifteen feet and this adventure was not quite so perilous.
I have identified the tree as a crab from snippets of my often faulty memory. I remember grabbing bunches of fruits from my tall perch to hurl at my brothers and neighborhood buddies below. Later in the year the fruits would drop to the ground, and fortunately the fruits of this particular crabapple were small so no one was injured too badly.
My paternal grandparents lived in a small home in the city of Falls Church, Virginia, a one story brick rambler with a basement that was filled with the most amazing wood shop (at least to a young boy). I don’t recall if this was my father’s childhood home, but I suppose that it was, so he would have played tag and hide and seek beneath the same group of evergreens clustered at the back corner of the property as my brothers and cousins did when we went for a visit. I suspect that the evergreens were the native Eastern Red Cedars, which are of course not cedars at all but junipers (Juniperus virginiana).
These were branched low to the ground, but paths were worn to dirt between the closely clustered trees where youngsters had scurried to avoid a tag. The branches are dense and the needled foliage irritating, so there was no climbing, but these evergreens are a part of my past that I recall with joy.
My family and grandparents were not gardeners, but when we moved to a house with a yard far out into the suburbs of northern Virginia there was space for planting, and every homeowner felt obligated to plant a shade tree or two. I recall (but won’t vouch for the truthfulness of the story) that the Silver maples planted in the front and back yards were purchased from a door-to-door vendor (I think Stark Brothers) who delivered the dormant bareroot trees to each homeowner.
I don’t believe there were local garden centers at the time, but through the years a few Helleri hollies were planted along the low front porch, Colorado spruces were planted in front and back, and a forsythia was planted to block the view from the front into one side of the backyard. The neighbor to that side erected a chain link fence, and it was rare that anyone attempted to squeeze through the wildly branched forsythia. Every few years it was cut back to a nub, but it quickly grew back in the spring.
Just beyond the back of the property was a small creek, and on our side of the creek was a large oak. One large branch extended almost horizontally over the creek, and here my brothers and I (and kids from the neighborhood) constructed tree houses (really only flat tree decks) from lumber pilfered from nearby homes being built. The builders were not neat, and lumber scattered across a property seemed to have been discarded to a young kid so that there was no fear of getting caught, or any thought that we were involved in a theft of any sort.
This was an oak, I know, because there were acorns, and every kid innately knows that acorns come from oaks, I suppose. The acorns were, of course, hurled at anyone who came close from our perch on the crudely constructed tree house. These were times when dads didn’t assist in grand projects to build multi-roomed tree houses, and though the lumber would occasionally tumble, kids and all, into the creek below, there were never any broken bones or anything more severe than than a scrape that I can recall.
These are my youthful memories. To be certain, these are not my only recollections, though I have such a poor memory that I can hardly recall a single teacher from my school years. I don’t believe that the crabapple, cedars, or oak encouraged me in any way towards my career in horticulture, and in fact, it was completely by accident that I landed in this business. But, perhaps it is not coincidental that these precious memories foretold my love of plants.
I don’t know if my career choice or my love for gardening has influenced my children. One son has followed me into landscaping, the other is a chemist, but both spent much of their childhood climbing trees, collecting blackberries from brambles in the thicket close beside the garden, and teetering on logs to cross the creek that borders our family home. I wonder if their children will one day cherish such memories.