Necessary Roughness

Posted by & filed under Natural Areas, Trees.

Dandy Lion has a close call in the stormLet me just start by saying I am not a fan of pine trees right now.  As many of you know (and probably experienced) we had a pretty strong nor’easter last week.  The Garden, just like a lot of other places in this region, was hit pretty hard, losing over 40 large trees and quite a few other small trees and shrubs.  I had a very close call, with pine cones, branches and needles showering down on me during the storm, so you can understand my personal disregard for this type of tree.

The first reaction most people have when they see or hear about the damage in the Garden is sadness.  They see the destruction of downed trees and shake their heads at the loss.  For the gardeners who work so hard to make the Garden beautiful, it can be disheartening.  But I take a slightly different view.  What has happened is important and necessary for the long term health of this Garden.  It may not have been scheduled or planned, but the destruction does have its benefits.

First, for very selfish reasons, I am happy right now.  With all the gardeners working like mad to clean up the mess, they pay no attention to me.  Just the other day, a gardener looked right at me and ignored me.  Instead she picked up the pine branches next to me and continued on her way.  What a relief that was.  Yep, there really is a silver lining to this storm.

Tree damage in Enchanted ForestBut why else am I happy?  Because this is nature’s process working as it should.  Plants germinate, grow and die.  In their death, they often provide life for many other organisms in the garden.  In a garden setting plants are routinely pruned or removed and nobody sheds a tear. A storm like this may prematurely remove some trees and other plants that are naturally approaching the end of their life (and sometimes some very healthy plants). Look at it as nature’s pruning.

In a formal garden setting, it certainly is more inconvenient when this natural, unscheduled pruning occurs.  Human-created settings and structures may suffer and the extra work is certainly unplanned and time consuming.  In Norfolk Botanical Garden’s more formal areas, only a few trees were affected thanks to the regular care and attention by the Garden’s staff.  It is in the more naturalized, wild areas of the Garden that the damage is most significant.  This is due partly to so many trees in those areas and when one tree fell, it took others with it.

MushroomFortunately, it is in these natural areas like Enchanted Forest, the Native Plant Garden and Mirror Lake that some of these trees will have the best opportunity to fulfill their destiny.  The trees blocking roads and paths will certainly be cut up and removed while leaning trees and large hanging branches will be dropped for the safety of visitors.  But once on the ground, some of these trees may be left to become part of the landscape.  They will host a variety of fungi that complete the decaying process.  Insects and other small creatures will make this once towering tree their home.  They in turn become food for birds and wildlife that makes our woodlands so appealing.  The hummock of the uprooted tree can make a new shelter for many animals. The fallen trees will also open up the forest in a new way, permitting smaller plants (like me!) and even younger trees to get more sunlight to grow larger and stronger.  Even in death, these trees give life.  

So take a moment to lament the loss of some great trees that graced our Garden for many years.  But rejoice as they continue to nurture the ever-changing Garden.  That is why you must come to the Garden frequently – to see what is new and growing every time.  Just keep the pine trees away from me.