Veterans in the Garden

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White Oak (Quercus alba)Today is Veterans Day – a time to honor the many men and women who served our country in the military.  I also want to take the opportunity to recognize some the great veterans of our Garden.

The Garden’s oldest “veteran” would be the beautiful white oak standing guard on the north-eastern side of Cobblestone Bridge.  As a young sapling, this tree may have seen both Confederate and Union soldiers pass by during the Civil War.  Many years later, it saw the waters of the western branch of Little Creek rise up to become Lake Whitehurst, lapping at the ground nearby.  It was over 100 years old when a canal was dug by Garden staff and boat tours began passing under its shady boughs.  This tree is full of old stories, but you have to sit a spell at its base to hear them rustling in the leaves.

An old tulip poplar at the heart of the Rhododendron Glade probably was just putting out its first flowers when Teddy Roosevelt led the Rough Riders up Tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipfera)San Juan Hill during the Spanish American War in 1898.  Today it stands as the tall veteran of a wooded area that includes a variety of trees and flowering shrubs.  On a summer’s day you may only notice the massive trunk as you pass under the grove’s sprawling canopy, but don’t forget to stop and look up at the beautiful branches overhead.

Sycamore bark Standing near the present day Conifer Garden is a grand old sycamore.  In its early years, it may have heard about news of the first doughboys arriving in France or the success of American troops at Saint-Mihiel during the First World War.  Now it spreads its branches across the peaceful Fern Glade.  Its mottled white trunk is a testament to its age and all the changes it has seen in the last 90 years.

Seventy years ago, a row of bald cypresses lined up in double file on the north edge of Mirror Lake.  A few years later, many brave young men did the same thing when they enlisted after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  Those cypresses welcomed home many of those victorious vets who fought in World War II.  Today they still stand at attention, greeting visitors as they cross the entrance causeway.

Dawn RedwoodA few years later, while soldiers where fighting in Pusan during the Korean conflict, a pair of dawn redwoods were beginning to grow nicely at the city nursery.  Today they stand their ground like a pair of guards, but the nursery is gone and Baker Overlook has risen instead.  These tall trees are evergreen, showing their firm resolve all year long, just like our troops.

A decade later, as young men headed to Asia to fight in Vietnam, the Flowering Arboretum was being planted.  Many trees were planted there throughout the years of conflict.  A particularly beautiful one is still standing near the center – a Weeping Higan Cherryweeping Higan cherry.  The graceful sweeping branches hide a stout trunk that stands firm year after year.  Each spring it shares beautiful blooms with visitors and each fall it puts on a colorful display as the leaves turn yellow and gold.

Some of the younger veterans should not be ignored.  Just as we honor vets of the Persian Gulf, Iraq and Afghanistan, we celebrate the contributions some of the younger trees are making in our Garden.  Right now a beautiful Virginia fringe tree is turning a glorious Colonial Garden in fall - Virginia Fringe Treegolden color near the Colonial Garden.  A Sunny Foster holly is standing watch over the deciduous hollies near the Children’s Garden.  In the Native Plant Garden longleaf pines are growing out of their grass stage into strong young trees.  In years to come, they will tower over the Garden like true veterans.

So take today to honor our great military veterans, then take some time to come see the Garden and enjoy some of our veteran plants.