Planting the Pines

November 6, 2015 162My last post about the 34 limber pines had to do with getting them off a truck, and transported some 450 feet up hill to the place where they would be planted. The first set of 14 Vanderwolfs would be planted around this generator. Building codes in this community specifies that a generator must be completely screened.  These old existing yews were several feet too short, and too thin. It is a very large and tall generator. I ordinarily would not think to screen with trees, but in this case, I felt that Vanderwolf’s pines would do more than provide a screen. They would be a feature of the landscape.

planting the Joe Burke's (4)It is essential to preserve access to the generator for service. A flexibly stemmed soft needled pine is perfect for this function.  A yearly pinching of the spring candles will keep these pines dense. Though shearing long needled pines is common in the landscape and Christmas tree industries, we will not shear these.  We will take a branch or the new growth (called a candle) back to the main stem. We were easily able to co-mingle the branches from one tree to the next, as those branches are indeed very flexible. We set these columnar pines 4 feet apart.  In the spring I will pinch out those wild hairs at the top, and lower the overall height about 18″.  We will keep those trees below the overhang.

planting the Joe Burke's (4)That giant generator is no longer part of the landscape. Landscape designers regularly have to take the placement of outdoor structures in to account. Telephone poles, electrical lines, drain and manhole covers, generators, fire hydrants and transformers are all part of the urban landscape.

KP 015The landscape on this side of the circular driveway was a random mix of spruce, viburnum, and yews, backed up by the neighbor’s old junipers and spruce. It would not be long before the spruce would engulf the yews, and hang over the driveway. In the center island we had planted four circles of spreading cap yews.  The outside ring is 36″ tall.  The inside ring is 24″ tall.  The mass will be kept loose, but in heights descending to the center.  Perhaps some day they will add a sculpture there. Between the yews and the existing landscape is a group of Green Gem boxwood sitting on the driveway, which will be planted in front of the Joe Burke limber pines. And yes, there is a transformer there.

planting the Joe Burke's (8)Once the spruce and most of the viburnum were moved, it is easier to see the issues that would need addressing.  The tall trunks are on the neighbor’s property.  My clients driveway comes within 6 feet of the property line.  I did consult with the neighbor and her landscape designer, and got permission to plant several of the dwarf pines a little over the property lines.  I did explain that these trees would not impact her old trees like the spruce would have. Once we had her permission, there was still the issue of the transformer and cable box. The pines would be added on either side of the box.  We would pick specific trees that seemed like they would handle that placement.

planting the Joe Burke's (19)We were able to determine that a tree could be planted behind the box. We dug this hole very cautiously, and a number of lines, sprinkler and otherwise, traverse this area. Since we could not plant a tree in front of the transformer, behind would be the next best way  to add that foliage and texture to that spot.

planting the Joe Burke's (18)Dan did the initial dig, and transplanted the viburnum.  His was a fishing expedition. He did find sprinkler lines, which were rerouted out of the way of the root ball.

planting the Joe Burke's (6)The curb of the new drive was protected by 4″ by 4″ timbers set on each side, and plywood over all.  We needed our front end loader to set the trees, as the trees were much too heavy to lift. Once each tree was set in the trench that had been dug, they could be rotated in the hole for the best fit with the tree before. This area, where some of the juniper branches were low, each tree had to be carefully fit in to what was existing.

planting the Joe Burke's (21)Planting the tree behind the box came last.

planting the Joe Burke's (22)This tree had a slight crook in the trunk.  When the ball was pitched forward, the branches came very close to the box. There is that perfect tree for every spot. That proximity was not a problem. The service would always be done on the front side.

planting the Joe Burke's (1)These irregular growing pinus flexilis “Joe Burke” fit right in with the background landscape. As they grow, albeit slowly, they will meld in a friendly way to what is there.

planting the Joe Burke's (11)Once the trees were in, the wood, plywood, tarps and soil could be removed.

planting the Joe Burke's (10)The last task was to back fill the trench with soil, and make sure the trees are straight.  They will be getting a thorough soaking, which will help with the insult of being dug, moved, and replanted.

the transformer garden 2The trees will be faced down with Green Gem boxwood that is 15″ tall. Green Gem is very slow growing, and can be kept short.  As the ground is rising here, the boxwood will have a slight bank.

screening the transformerTaller Green Mountain boxwood were used to screen the front of the generator. Once the flexible pines grow, there will be some melding going on here as well. Those big boxwood are not an especially graceful gesture , but they are a better look than that green box.


A New Driveway

drivewayEvery landscape project presents its own particular set of challenges. In the ordinary course of events, the planting of a landscape comes after the installation of the hard structures. A new house has to be designed, built, and close to a finish, before the landscape installation can begin. Hard structures in a landscape renovation refers to pergolas, gates, terraces,  arbors, sidewalks, underground electrical conduit for landscape lighting, air conditioners and generators, and the driveway.  Our current project is a perfect storm of related but separate renovation work on the outside, all going on at the same time. The concurrent installation of a new driveway, and our landscape installation, has been an experience like no other – just ask my landscape superintendent, Dan. I have designed plenty of driveways, both simple and complex, but I have never had to work on a landscape without one. This driveway is being installed in sections. A section gets removed, a new base is put down, and the new driveway is installed. All of the asphalt debris, and countless machines were on site. We have been scrambling for several weeks to get the big trees installed in those short and intermittent slots between the old driveway removal and the new driveway install.  As you can see, there is no clear path from the road to the landscape we are installing at the top of the hill.

pinus flexilis 00133 pinus flexilis hybrid pine trees, 9 feet tall and better, with 36″ diameter rootballs, got delivered curbside this morning. We could not truck them to the spot where they will be planted.  The new sections of driveway are not ready for traffic, and the rest of the old drive is gone. We had already cleared the old failing plants from the area for these new trees, one wheelbarrow load at a time. My client came to the rescue. She arranged for the driveway contractor to bring an electric power jack to the site, and provide 3 people in addition to our 6 to get those big trees uphill. Soulliere Stone Design, owned by Tim Soulliere, is in  charge of installing the new driveway. Removing the old drive, widening the new drive by 40″, installing a drive of concrete pavers and curbing piece by piece, is a big job which is turning out to be a beautiful job. But today he suspended his work, and gave us a huge hand.

pinus flexilis 002The bad news?  We could only move one tree at a time. The good news?  We were not pushing each tree up a fairly steep slope by hand. The newest portions of the drive had not yet been sanded. Polymeric sand is swept into the spaces between each paver, locking them together. In its current unfinished state, the drive could tolerate the pallet jack used by the paving crew move pallets of pavers to the spot where they are needed. Given the steady, sure, and thoughtful hand of a client, the driveway crew and the landscape crew came together to get a job done. The front and newest section of the new driveway was protected by sheets of plywood.

pinus flexilis 005The parts of the driveway that had already been stiffened by the addition of polymeric sand took the trips up with one tree at a time effortlessly. However the effort expended by both crews was considerable. Despite the pulling power of the jack, there was concern that the battery would need recharging before the last of the trees were moved. They pushed. Every landscape project, whether large or small, asks for creating an order of events all aimed at the finish. In the event that the order of events is interrupted, cooperation makes a job move forward.

pinus flexilis 003These 33 trees are taking up a lot more space on the ground plane than they will when they are planted. My grower has had these pinus flexilis “Vanderwolf’s” in the ground for a good many years.  They are incredibly beautiful plants. A group of 14 we will plant as a hedge.  Pinus flexilis refers to their very flexible branches. We will be able to co-mingle branches from one tree to the next to make a solid and dense hedge where there is a need for screening.   pinus flexilis 01019 pinus flexilis “Joe Burke”, an irregular growing hybrid, will enable us to go around a number of old tree sized junipers. The junipers lowest branches are 7′ to 10′ off the ground. The ground level branches have been lost. Up high, the branches are beautiful, and swooping. The planting of the Joe Burkes will involve positioning one tree at a time, fitted to the previous tree, and in anticipation of the tree to come, in that irregular open space at ground level. They will have a loose and graceful habit.  The wind off the lake will animate the branches. The blue color of the needles is a good companion with the juniper branches, and the color of the new driveway.

pinus flexilis 007Pinus flexilis is on my short list of pines worth growing.  Absent any pruning, they become open with age like other pines. But with judicious heading back in the spring, the Vanderwolf’s can be quite dense. They are slow growing, and adaptable. I will probably protect them from the wind coming off the lake for this first winter, to avoid burn to the needles.  They are tolerant of partial shade, which is unusual for a pine.  These will be sited with a western exposure, so it is important that they will thrive in less than a full day of sun. Each blue needle has a white stripe, which makes this tree stand out in the landscape.

pinus flexilis 009I have a new landscape superintendent as of the past February. I am happy to report he is by far and away the best I have ever worked with.  He is as knowledgeable about sound landscape practices as he is unflappable. This project is challenging, but he is easy going about working shoulder to shoulder with a whole raft of other tradespeople who are working on this project. He is confident in the outcome. It pleases me that despite his 30 years in the landscape business, he has never seen or planted a pinus flexilis. How easy it is to have an enduring and long standing interest in the natural world. There is always something new. This planting project will be a pleasure.

Building The Lucerne Pergola

the Lucerne pergola (2)Phase 1:  Design, engineer, and build  Once Buck had my sketch for the pergola, there were a lot of drawings that would need to be done.  The CAD drawings would indicate the angles, the rolling radiuses, and the exact sizes of every piece of steel that would be necessary to fabricate the piece. Buck constructed the pergola full size – down to the last bolt hole – in the computer.

the Lucerne pergola (3)

the Lucerne pergola (4)

the Lucerne pergola (5)

the Lucerne pergola (6)

the Lucerne pergola (10)Buck’s crew put the base of the pergola together up side down, to be sure every piece fit together properly. Owen was the lead fabricator on the project, with help from Adam, Riley, Sal, LaBelle, and Buck.

the Lucerne pergola (8)Lattice panels were designed and fabricated as an open wall for the back of the pergola, and feature a steel ball detail.

the Lucerne pergola (9) Each of nine panels were hand fabricated and fitted to each opening.

setting the structure (7)The installation: setting the structure.  The bottom of the pergola was bolted in the rear to a seat wall of brick, through the bull nosed blue stone coping.

setting the structure (5)

setting the structure (8)

setting the structure (6)The top of the brick wall is seat height, and width.

setting the structure (4)

setting the structure (3)

setting the structure 2The front post were anchored to 42″ deep concrete footings.

setting the roof beam (7)Setting the roof beams was the most difficult part of the job.  Each half-beam was 12 feet in diameter, and was incredibly heavy.  A support bar made especially to hold these beams, and a loader was necessary to get these pieces to the proper height for bolting on.

setting the roof beam (6)

setting the roof beam (4)

setting the roof beam (3)

setting the roof beam (2)

setting the roof beam (1)

setting the structure 2

the roof (2)Setting the roof.  These pictures are not so swell, with all that sky behind the action.  The top of the finial is 17 feet off the ground.

the roof (3)

the roof (1)

the roof (4)

hanging the lattice panels (3)hanging the lattice panels

hanging the lattice panels (1)

hanging the lattice panels (4)

the finish (3)

Branch Studio pergolaThe finish

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Branch Studio pergola (3)

Branch Studio pergola (1)

the finish (1)5 of the 6 Branch Studio dudes

the finish (2)The two day installation consumed 110 hours of work on the part of all 6 members of Branch. My clients had the great idea to do a time lapse video of the installation-what a treat this is to watch! If you are interested in watching, click on the link below.

the Lucerne Pergola installation


Planting A Tree

the tricolor beech (2)The very first tree I ever planted was a gingko.  My Mom and I, with not much discussion or ceremony, planted 10 seeds in small plastic pots. As I was probably 7 years old, it never occurred to me to ask where she got the seed. As she was a fairly reserved parent, there was no presentation about how to successfully grow trees from seed, or why growing a tree from a seed was a worthwhile and satisfying use of one’s time. Or that trees in general are one of the great wonders of the natural world.  I do remember that only one seed germinated.  That pot was buried in the rose garden for several years, until that gingko was about 15″ tall.  I watched her dig up a patch of grass in the side yard. In the process of getting the gingko out of the pot, I knocked all the soil off of the roots. I was horrified-I thought I had killed it.  She just scooped up that bareroot tree, and planted it in one fell swoop-the entire planting took but seconds. I would be in charge of the water to that tree for years to come. Once I turned 13, I had to be sent to the tree to water.  Once I turned 16, my attitude shifted. There was a lot of satisfaction to watching that tree grow-and grow it did.  By the time I went to college, it was a proper tree, a young but substantial element of our suburban landscape.

the tricolor beech (3)My Mom moved while I was in college, closer to the school where she taught.  I would eventually move near her.  That gingko tree was on its own, on the other side of town. If I ever had cause to drive from the west to the east side, I would go to see the tree.  It would always be there, just a little bit larger than the last trip. Gingkos are slow growers. Several weeks after she died, I went to see the tree. It was a comfort to me, that 45 year old tree, living and growing. It was such a beautiful tree, all on its own, set in the lawn. 10 years after she died, I went to see the tree, but it was gone. There was no sign it had ever been there. The shock and the grief  was unsettling. Every gardener has a hefty respect and affection for trees.

the tricolor beech (4)My second tree planting was in my twenties.  I was visiting a friend in Kalamazoo.  We were both gardeners, so a good part of every visit was consumed visiting nurseries. One nursery had a tall adolescent tulip tree in an undersized pot, with one green and orange “tulip” blooming at the top.  I had to have that tree. The leaf shape was so beautiful!  I drove that tree home in my pickup truck, and hauled it all over my property until I decided where to plant it. I chose a place where it would be free to grow as big as it could.  I was unaware that liriodendron are tap rooted, and very difficult to transplant.  I stripped the sod from the spot, dug down deep, and amended the heavy clay soil, and put that tree in the ground. I kept it watered without any coaching.  Miraculously, it took hold.  There were never any more tulips as long as I lived there. When I moved 15 years later, it was just beginning to put on weight.  I know better now than to go back.  I prefer to believe it is still there, growing taller and bigger every year.

the tricolor beech (5)I was working for Al Goldner, at Goldner Walsh Nursery, when I had occasion to plant my third tree. He had a dawn redwood that had lost its leader. It was header for the compost pile. When I asked him if I could take it home, he only said that the tree would never be right without its leader.  Plant it I did, in a swampy spot where it grew every bit of 18 inches a year.  Its shape was definitely asymmetrical, but it had a strange and atypical beauty that enchanted me. My fourth tree was a London Plane that had not been sold, but needed to go in the ground. Al gave that tree to me as well.  It was so large that it took me days to dig the hole. I needed every friend I had to help me roll it in the hole.  It took years before that tree took hold, and started to grow.  My property was almost 5 acres.  I had plenty of room for trees. I was beginning to understand a few things about planting them.

the tricolor beech (6)Over the course of my career, I have planted a lot of trees. Under story, or smaller growing trees are easy to place in just about any landscape. Their mature size is friendly and companionable with perennial gardens and shrubs, and smaller urban properties. The variety of species and cultivars available at nurseries is extensive. A gardener would need a very large property to grow one of every tree available in commerce. Trees are grown and sold in a variety of sizes.  The modest cost of a small tree in a pot makes it possible to plant a grove. My company rarely handles a tree with a root ball over 40 inches in diameter.  A root ball this size will weigh almost 1000 pounds. Some nurseries grow very large specimen trees. Luckily there exists sophisticated technology, and expert large tree movers such as GP Enterprises, that permits moving and replanting very large trees.

the tricolor beech (7)A tree spade is a flat bed truck, outfitted with a hydraulically powered set of four blades that can remove a cone shaped mass of soil 10′ in diameter, and better than 6 feet deep.  The spade can likewise dig a large tree, and transport it horizontally on the truck bed to a replanting location. A 5 inch caliper tree – the caliper being the diameter of the trunk 6 feet from the ground – will require a 5 foot diameter root ball to insure a successful transplant.  A 5′ diameter root ball weighs about 2800 pounds. We are in the process of installing a landscape on a very large property.  Big trees will help to provide a sense of scale and age to the landscape. This tricolor beech is 35 years old.  It is possible to move a tree of the age, as it has been root pruned, dug and moved a number of times at the nursery. Moving a tree from the wild would of the age would be much more difficult.

new beech (2)No matter the size, moving a tree is never easy. Every balled and burlapped tree has had many roots critical to its health and well being cut off in the process of making it movable. A large canopy tree with an abruptly reduced root system will suffer transplant shock, until enough roots grow back to adequately support the life of that canopy. It will take a year for every inch of caliper for that tree to recover sufficiently to begin growing again.  A one inch caliper tree will resume growing after one season in the ground.  A ten inch caliper tree will take 10 years to become completely established.

new beech (1)This tricolor beech has a very good new home. It was transplanted with a good deal of care.  It is planted in a space where it has plenty of room to grow. Best of all, there is a committed client who will not only truly enjoy it,  they will look after it as it should be.