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Zelkova Serrata or Japanese Zelkova, at Borough Hall
in Metuchen, New Jersey. (USDA Growing Zone 6)

A Tree Grower's Diary
Photographs and text by Julie Walton Shaver

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Thursday, June 29, 2006

Big Leaf, Little Leaf

We were at Holmdel Park today and Bradley came out of the woods holding this big leaf, studying it, wondering why the stem was black, like it had been burned, and why one of the lobes was curled and black, and why it was covered with little brown dots. He sat for a long time studying the leaf.

As I watched him, I suddenly felt guilty for not posting anything here for a while, and for not telling you all that I'M ON VACATION!

In addition, I'm in the very long and tedious process of setting up a new Web site for my freelance photography, so I'm taking a bit of a hiatus from tree posting for a while. Sorry the blog comments section here is so backwards. But thanks to all of you who have been sending in blog comments. Yes! I'm reading them!

When things get back to normal next week or the week after, I hope to start posting the size updates of my trees, one by one. This will take some time! Meanwhile, I am so happy my children are here to remind me of the important things in life: time together, and don't forget to stop and study the trees once in a while!
Photograph of the day.
11:26 pm | link 

Thursday, June 22, 2006

October Glory Spider

There's a long crack in the bark of our October Glory red maple in which sat a spider. I scared her away, to get a closer look, and she came back moments later. I think I'll look for her again tomorrow. Am I worried about the crack in the bark? Should I be? It's been there forever. The tree looks healthy. Should I be worried about the spider? Maybe she's eating the bad pests. Maybe she likes aphids and borers and worms of all kinds. I think that long crack in the bark is her home.

I think I'll leave her alone.

NatureGirl, in Ontario, Canada, writes: Julie initially I thought I was about to read a poem written by you! It sort of had the feel.I liked the gentle spirit felt towards the spider.I see many tall cacti with holes and cracks here in Arizona. What stories they could tell!!

Bobbi, in Fort Wayne, Indiana, writes: WOW! You got close close close to that spider! OOGIDY BOOGIDY! ~Bobbi

Diana, in Denver, CO, writes: i have just purchased an October Glory tree myself at a local gardening shop, and am so excited! i didn't see a photo of what it would look like come autumn, but fell immediately in love with this particular tree (though it was surrounded by many others of its same breed), so googled October Glory to see what i could expect. i mostly wanted to say to you, thank you for loving and leaving the spider in your own tree. i do adore these eight-legged little creatures, and am always happy when others let them be rather than squish them. they are an admirable sort, spiders, so it's a pleasure to read that you've allowed her to stay. : ) may your tree grow big, strong, and provide shade for you and your family for many years to come! (we plant ours tomorrow, and i'm looking very forward to it) peace~diana
Good luck with your new tree, Diana! Take pictures!
Photograph of the day.
10:36 am | link 

Sunday, June 18, 2006

This is 'Gregory's Tree'

The purple leaf plum is well documented for being my nemesis. This conflicts with the fact that she has been the most favored, highly regarded tree in the entire universe to Gregory for as long as he can remember. He can spot a purple leaf plum from miles away. But the only one known as "Gregory's Tree" is the one that lives, and lies, in our yard.

That said, one of my favorite tree stories is the one that goes like this. A guy, we'll call him Joe, goes into a nursery and says, "You got a 'Gregory's Tree'?" Nursery guy says, "Never heard of it." Joe says, "You know, little tree with purple leaves?" Nursery guy says, "Hmm, purple leaves. Purple leaf plum?" Joe: "Yeah, that's it, Gregory's Tree." Nursery guy scratches his head.

That's a true story, by the way, except I don't remember the name of the guy who told me he went to a nursery, asked for a "Gregory's Tree," and was stared at quizzically for quite some time.

Gregory loves this story almost as much as he loves his tree.

But today, when he asked for tree tattoos, he asked for a GREEN LEAF tree -- "a summer tree," he said, "on one hand, and a fall tree on the other hand." He specified, "green" and "red" leaves to show "summer" and "fall."

That purple leaf plum, bless her soul, isn't Gregory's idea of a summer tree! Do you realize what this means?! The next tree I plant for Gregory doesn't have to be a purple leaf plum! I'll be able to sell him on the idea of planting a "real man tree" with "real summer leaves"!

I think we'll look at a nice, deep rooted oak. Gregory loves squirrel watching almost as much as Kaptain Karl. What do you suppose would happen if I went down to Barton's Nursery and asked for a "Gregory's Oak"? Hmm.
Photograph of the day.
10:33 pm | link 

Friday, June 16, 2006

In No Hurry for the Cherries to Ripen

Squirrels and birds begin eating the fruit on my black cherry tree as soon as June, even though it won't be ripe until August. Even so, by then there will still be plenty of black cherries left for the critters that would rather wait, such as we human critters.

Some of us human critters would rather wait forever. The fruit is tasteless and just a little sour to me. (I have a SERIOUS sweet tooth.)

Squirrels live in this tree, hide, make nests, run, climb, chatter, taunt my cat. I was standing under the tree today taking pictures when I saw globs of brown stuff on some leaves. "NOW what," I thought, wondering about galls and scales and aphids and all the other ills my trees have experienced this year. Upon close inspection, however, I have determined that the brown globs are squirrel droppings. Nice. (Bleah.) And since I was standing underneath the tree taking pictures of a squirrel on his commute home, it suddenly occurred to me to move out from under the tree!

Pruning a black cherry tree seems to insure a bumper crop of cherries, so I don't prune mine anymore. It's the cherries falling through the month of August that makes for unhappy human neighbors, so if there's anything I can do to limit the number of cherries on my tree, the only thing I've found that works is to let the tree grow wild for as long as I can stand it. This probably makes the animal critters happy. Human critters are another story.

My anti-pruning philosophy didn't go over so well with my neighbor a few years ago. He majored in forestry in college (and so he knew everything there was to know about trees, going so far as to refer to my bradford pear trees as "basswoods") and his solution to cherries falling on his Jacuzzi was to trim as much of the tree that hung over his property as he could, ahem, safely reach. This meant that I often would catch him way up in my tree, hanging from the limbs, cutting away -- having majored in forestry and all made him an expert tree climber too.

That busy-body (literally!) neighbor has since moved away, and I have new neighbors now. Quiet, well-mannered, exceptionally nice neighbors who I wish to keep as friends. They haven't yet realized the nuisance tree, thank goodness. But if I had the money, I would cut the tree down, despite the fact that it's a safe haven for many wild creatures. That's how much it means to me to maintain a good relationship with my human neighbors. (Sorry squirrels.) Unfortunately, the lowest estimate for cutting the tree down was $1,200!


Since the human neighbors will hate me by the end of August, I'm thinking of inviting Mr. and Mrs. Squirrel down for dinner.

NatureGirl, in Ontario, Canada, writes: Julie you crack me up! In seeing the photo of the sweet squirrel in the tree I thought you were going to write a poetic account of your visiting squirrels and birds and then you mention the "brown globs!" By the end of your post you are thinking of inviting squirrels to dinner.. you've redeemed yourself!!
Photograph of the day.
10:41 am | link 

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Some Day He'll Be Known as 'The Old Red Sunset'

When I was in the planting phase of my trees, I simply couldn't imagine what the baby trees would look like when grown, how tall they'd be, how far they'd spread, how much shade they'd throw, how dense they'd grow. I searched high and low for a book that had pictures of the same tree over the years. I wanted page 10 to feature a picture of a small sapling just bought from a nursery, and on page 11, the same tree 10 years later.

Having found no book like that, I made one myself! You are holding it in your mouse hand.

Each tree on this site has a section, usually of three pages: a journal page, a detailed facts page and a growth chart.

The journal page is where I put general pictures and a running commentary on what's happening with a particular tree. The detailed facts page lists all the basic information for the species or cultivar, plus specific information about my tree including details like the conditions at planting time and whether the tree was staked or not. I have no idea if anybody out there finds this information useful, but I like having a record of it.

The growth charts show pictures of my trees when they were first planted, and yearly, or sometimes seasonal, shots throughout the years. On each page is a "facts at a glance" box for the casual visitor to get some basic information. Within that box is a line called "2006 update." As of now, I haven't started the growth updates. I plan to start working on that by June 22, after the last day of school. I'll need the kids to help me in this HUGE project, and it might take all summer to complete.

My favorite growth chart is on the page for my red sunset red maple tree. It's so easy to see how fast the tree is growing, to see his varying fall colors and yearly growth. The yard in the foreground is my neighbor's yard. The red wagon that keeps showing up in the pictures belongs to Mary and Fred's children. I have no control over when the wagon shows up in pictures and when it doesn't. The randomness of that is symbolic of continuity of family and humanity that a planned prop could never show, at least not honestly.

If I had it all to do over again, there is almost nothing I would do the same. To start, I wouldn't plant a single tree without having researched it thoroughly. The most important thing I've learned, then, since my first tree planting in 1996, is to PLANT THE RIGHT TREE IN THE RIGHT SPOT. And don't over plant.

Be sure to check back in 10 or 20 years to see how that red sunset maple is doing. By then, I probably won't be able to fit it him my viewfinder, assuming I can still walk around the corner to take his picture. And the red wagon? If it's not in a landfill by then, I hope it shows up the bottom of my picture, the little pink wagon of Mary's and Fred's grandchild resting peacefully under the old red sunset.

NatureGirl, in Ontario, Canada, writes: How magnificent the red sunset with its dramtic color! My garden journal a far cry from yours with its concise and precise notes! :)

Todd, in northern Georgia, writes: If you document more trees you should have enough content to write a very helpful book. And you know I find your site helpful and inspiring and I'm sure there are hundreds of thous of others who agree.
Photograph of the day.
4:22 pm | link 

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Coffeetree Murdered in a Cat Fight

Ok, here's the story. See, my cat, Kaptain Karl, got out somehow, and he, um, was chasing this bird, and Karl, he knocked over the pot, like Peter Rabbit would. Then the bird, she swooped down to taunt the poor old Kaptain, snatching the coffeetree seedling right off at the base. Can you BELIEVE that? My tree: MURDERED!

Ok, here's the REAL story: Karl doesn't have front claws. If he got out, I'd be in a serious panic. Truth is: I am the one who murdered the coffeetree seedling. I just couldn't bear another headline revealing what a total nincompoop-tree-murderer I am. I left the coffeetree cup out in the pouring rain and when I remembered it, I rushed out to look (Ok, I went out the next day) and the baby tree was laying on its side, broken off at the base, dead as a coffee bean at Starbucks.

Thank God Bruce sent me more than one coffeetree seed! My friend, Hayley, helped me plant another one. We are hoping this one sprouts, and if it does, maybe Hayley's mom will let her plant the tree in her yard. That is, assuming I don't murder it before tomorrow.

Meanwhile, Kaptain Karl lounges safely on the sill, watching Hayley and me plant trees and take pictures, hoping that one day his timing will be just right and he'll actually make it out the screen door unnoticed as I'm coming in. Time to stop chattering at all those birds in his yard and actually make contact.

NatureGirl, in Ontario, Canada, writes: Kaptain Carl so handsome! Great photos of KC and the bird! Another connection we have! :)

Sasha, in Oklahoma, writes: Your intro made me laugh out loud- SO good and so funny. Thank you for sharing. That was great. Especially the part about Karl not having any front claws.
Photograph of the day.
12:29 am | link 

Thursday, June 8, 2006

The Beast Is Me

Look closely at the pruning picture above. At the very top is a tiny black wormy-looking bug. She is trying desperately to escape the refuse bag. I thought I was doing the right thing: pruning my tree to let in more light and air, an attempt to thwart the ever-growing scale population.

But thanks to Maggie from New Jersey, who wrote to suggest that the yellow spikey things in yesterday's post just might be ladybug eggs, a positive post mortem identification has been determined. This makes perfect sense considering all the ladybugs that have been hanging around the purple leaf plum tree feasting on scales. What's more, after doing a Google image search, I discovered that the "ugly worm-bug-thing" on my tree that had me so grossed out is actually a ladybug larvae.

Or WAS a ladybug larvae. Minutes after snapping the pictures on pruning day, I stuffed the branch (and thus, the larvae, which at the time I didn't even know was there -- it's so tiny) and the ladybug eggs into the trash bag. By the way, there were probably also several thousand scale bugs, and stinky, sticky branches and leaves in that trash bag. That was the most challenging pruning job I've done as of yet, considering my weak stomach. (Did I mention that Elaine's hands were stained purple for DAYS after she hand-swiped the scales? EW!)

My purple leaf plum tree may be a pain in the neck, but I am the one who is beastly, not her. I killed baby lady bugs. I am a bad, bad person.

However, thanks to Maggie-the-ladybug-queen, I am now a better educated tree diarist who will never trash perfectly good ladybug eggs ever again.

And now, neither will you.

Maggie, somewhere in Jersey, writes: Ahhh don't be so hard on yourself. I did the EXACT same thing. Lady bugs lay LOTS of eggs. I was happy to find baby lady bugs - and god they ARE ugly aren't they - one tree over. Live and learn right? I've been researching beneficials in an effort to let nature take its course as much as possible. We had an interesting family discussion last night about how ants herd aphids - fascinating stuff. Good luck with your purple leaf plum!

NatureGirl, in Ontario, Canada, writes: Julie I recently emailed you with a question about worms on my mugho pine. I had a landscaper come by and tell me those were future butterflies!! These pines were located in my butterfly garden! OH NO I made up an organic pesticide and killed every single one!!! I didn't know!! I am sick about it as I LOVE butterflies!!(ladybugs too) Perhaps he was wrong.
Photograph of the day.
12:20 pm | link 

Wednesday, June 7, 2006

Beauty or the Beast?

While pruning my purple leaf plum, I noticed the underside of this leaf, decorated with bright yellow, um, what do you call those things? Spikes? Bumps? Well, anyway, whatever they are, they're really strange-looking. I was thinking that since I also saw an ugly worm-bug-thing with bright yellow stripes on a nearby leaf that perhaps these spikey thingies are worm eggs, like fish eggs. They might be galls though. (Galls are a tree's response to stress or bug infestations, sort of like pimples with serious germs inside, and not much treatable.)

In any case, I am fed up with the never-ending problems of this plum tree! I think she's beautiful, but her problems are so numerous, I'd seriously like to just be done with her!

By the way, lest anybody begin to think that it's just me, that I'm the one at fault for not taking good enough care of my tree, and so now she has bugs and bumps, let the world know: There are scales on every single plum tree in my neighborhood that I can get close enough to. Bradley was approaching a plum tree the other day in the playground at school and could tell by the rancid smell that we were coming upon a tree with scales. Yuck.

One day soon, I promise I will stop talking about my plum tree saga. And just because I hate to end on a negative note, I will add that Gregory is very excited that the scales have finally left his tree! Yay! See? Something to be glad about! (I have not told him about the worm-egg-yellow-gall thing. Shh!)
Photograph of the day.
1:27 pm | link 

Tuesday, June 6, 2006

Julie: 1, Scales: 0

In the continuing saga of Me Vs. Miss Plum, I'd have to say I won the latest battle. After Elaine swiped away a large portion of the scale population on my tree, I went out a few days later and pruned the branches I could reach to let in more sunlight and air. Scales like to settle in dark, moist spots on the tree, so I figured if I didn't give them such a happy environment, they would go away, or better, yet, shrivel up and DIE. Below, the insides of a scale. Hope you're not eating your dinner.

Photograph of the day.
1:12 pm | link 

Sunday, June 4, 2006

Look Bruce I Did It I'm a Tree Grower!

All three ginkgo seeds and one of the coffeetree seeds sprouted! That's four for five! I can't believe it! I can actually call myself a tree grower now! (Cue the music, french horns and trumpets in a swelling melody.) Now, um, hey Bruce? what do I do next? Let's see wait I remember. Patience. Water. Dirt. Sunshine. And one more thing Bruce-the-Ginkgo-King told me. "Don't let the squirrels get 'em." Seems squirrels LOVE baby ginkgo trees. Next step: make a ginkgo cage.

Roy, in Brisbane, Austrailia, writes: It's lovely to see new seedlings poking through and about to shed the seed pods. Nice shot.
Photograph of the day.
10:52 pm | link 

Friday, June 2, 2006

Memorial Day in Metuchen

I don't often stray from the topic of trees in this blog, but once in a while it's bound to happen, especially around Memorial Day, one of the most important days of the year for me.

Ever since I moved to Metuchen, I dutifully went to the Memorial Day parade, waving my American flag, but never really spending much time contemplating the meaning of the day. When a veteran came by in a wheelchair, I didn't want to think of the dark days he'd been through. Sometimes I looked away. I would watch a bit of the parade until I got too hot or thirsty and then I would go home.

All that changed in 2005 when the Metuchen Area Chamber of Commerce asked me to photograph Memorial Day festivities for the chamber's Web site. It was my first real photography event not centered around stationary trees. The pressure was on. It wasn't like I could try again if I missed an important shot.

The first thing I did -- I swear -- was to go up to Memorial Park and check out the trees! (O.K., maybe I didn't stray too far off the blog topic after all!) Ginkgoes and honey locust trees fill the park, planted in memory of residents from our town who perished in wars. I remember looking up at the ginkgoes and thinking what a wonderful selection that was -- long-lived trees with beautiful color and distinctive leaves, thought to be the oldest deciduous tree species in the world. I wasn't so sure the honey locust trees were a good idea. Now that they are approaching maturity, they seem very close. Some of them are scraggly-looking, demuring so that others will ensure the life of the forest. I wondered when the weathered yellow ribbons tied around the trunks would be replaced with new ones. "Soon," the parade committee chairperson told me.

A few days later, local boy scouts tied new ribbons around the trees. I wasn't there to get pictures of that. I missed it. And I wondered: is it more important to know who tied all those ribbons, or just the fact that they're there, beckoning our troops to come home?

On parade day last year, I ran the entire length of the route, staying through the Memorial Day ceremony and until the last hot dog was eaten. I was exhausted when it was over. And much to my surprise, the pictures came out pretty good! I started to feel a bit of confidence in my photography skills.

But what's more, after seeing the men and women from every branch of the military standing at attention through the entire ceremony, never flinching at the veterans recounting brave and scary tales of famous and not-so-famous battles, I learned a deep reverence for the sacrifices soldiers and their family members make in the name of freedom, loyalty and honor.

I watched with respect the family members standing with their beloved soldiers returned home, entertwining their arms in a way that communicated, "I'm not letting you go again." I thought they were like the honey locust trees, their roots entertwining to lift the chosen one higher so he might reach the sun.

In the last year, I have learned many new things I can do with my camera, having made several slide shows that tell a story through images and music that one or the other simply can't do alone. So when the Chamber asked me to photograph the 2006 Memorial Day events, I jumped at the chance to try my shots again, this time with an experienced eye, skilled hands, and a high regard for the men and women who have given their lives for our country. My new movie, "We Remember," is a tribute to them, and to those who are currently serving. May our troops come home to their families safe and sound.

Just before Memorial Day, boy scouts tied ribbons around the trees again. Again, I missed the shot. But the ribbons are there, fresh and clean, beckoning.

Comments for this post and the movie have been moved here.
Photograph of the day.
5:00 pm | link 

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"The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is today." -- African proverb

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While the Tree Grower's Diary has been in existence since 1996 (as a notebook) and since 1999 (at Coffeedrome), this new, independent site was launched on April 4, 2006. The blog posts here go from April 2006 through 2007. After that, all Tree Growers Diary blog posts appear in my main blog, the City of Nouns. Click here to go straight to the tree category.