I have a dreadful memory. This is not so much a matter of age as an attention deficit. There’s no syndrome, or any diagnosis so serious, I just don’t pay adequate attention to some things. I rarely recall a person’s name until at least the seventh time we’ve met, and my wife routinely tells stories of our kids growing up. I wonder, where was I when that happened? Yet, I remember the day I planted the huge, purple leafed European beech that occupies much of the front of the property. And the dogwood, and the ‘Bloodgood’ and ‘Seriyu’ Japanese maples.
I don’t keep good records, so I rarely recall the cultivar names of anything I’ve planted. Tricyrtis ‘Sinonome’ becomes just another toad lily, though occasionally I can match identifying characteristics to a reference and figure it out. I swear that there was a time when I could name almost all of the hundred plus hostas in the garden, but that was before deer nibbled the number down by a third, and before my poor little brain became so cluttered that only gibberish comes out. Sometimes this is convenient, sometimes not.
Anyway, to get back to the story, the front yard is slightly sloped from the road to the house, and the purple leafed European beech is planted halfway between. The lower, back portion of the property is a silty clay, but the upper third is more hard pan with a bit of shale. There was not much difficulty in digging the hole for the beech, but after planting I decided that the lower side of the hill must be supported by a low stone wall. Projects are often more complicated than anticipated, and though nothing about this was too strenuous, it turned out not to be as simple as just digging a hole.
If you have ever planted a beech it’s no surprise that for the first eight years it grew imperceptibly, if at all. Most trees spend a year or two growing roots and adjusting to transplanting, but the beech takes its time until just before you have given up hope that it will come around. Then, two years later it grows fine, and twenty some years after planting (and thirteen or fourteen years after it started to grow) the beech now shades much of the front, and the thirsty roots deny water to allow most of anything to grow beneath it.
At one time the front garden was full sun until late afternoon when it was partially shielded by the house. The two upright, dissected leaf ‘Seriyu’ Japanese maples were not always planted inside the front walk. In the garden’s early years two dogwoods were planted beside the house, but the spot quickly proved too damp. One dogwood failed, the other was moved to higher ground just outside the walk, where it flourishes twenty years later. The maples have grown so that branches arch over the walk, and along with the dogwood the area has become shaded so that boxwoods planted beneath them are slowly declining.
I should also point out that my grasp of time has failed me, and almost certainly was never very good. As the garden has crept past twenty years it sometimes seems that the day I planted the Bigleaf magnolia in the side yard could not have been any longer than eight or perhaps ten years ago. But, then I recall seeing the magnolia in a tree grower’s field in middle Tennessee, overgrown with weeds and neglected, with the uncommon tree abandoned as unmarketable.
Our pickup truck traveled through the waist high grass, thumping along through potholes left from trees that had been dug in past years. I spotted the magnolia’s huge leaves, and after a few moments negotiation, the tree was mine (to be dug in late winter for spring planting). The Bigleaf magnolia adjusted to the transplant marvelously, and quickly substantiated references’ recommendation that the tree is inappropriate for most residential properties. It’s big and coarse, and the huge leaves and blooms barely substantiate its place in the garden. But, to me it’s a found treasure and one of the few lasting memories I have.