Through the Garden Gate: Change in the garden

Published 5:56 pm Saturday, October 28, 2023

When we bought our house over 30 years ago, it was surrounded by massive oak trees. They provided shade, protection from wind, and much pleasure. Unfortunately, one uprooted itself on a very wet Christmas Eve about 10 years ago. It was quite a shock to be awakened by flashing blue lights and the sound of men trying to clear the street beside our house. 

Removing the remains of the tree and dealing with the damage to surrounding plants and a stone wall were both complicated. In the end, the character of that area of the garden was completely changed. There was more space for daylilies and other sun loving plants, but far less for hostas. 

This fall, we’ve had another momentous change in the garden. We had to remove an ancient white oak in front of our house. It had a diameter of well over six feet and very thick bark, both indicators of considerable age. In fact, our retired forestry friend estimated that it was probably over 300 years old. Unfortunately, our beloved tree was leaning. 

Email newsletter signup

The crew we hired to remove the tree spent five days on the job. There was considerable strategy involved in removing sections so that stone walls, plants, and a neighbor’s house wouldn’t be harmed. After the last of the limbs had been removed and the men began to take the trunk down in sections, we saw that the trunk was hollow and that the hollow extended up about 30 feet and out into a large limb. So sad.

We’re all still grieving the loss of this tree, which was clearly far older than our house (built in the 1880s), but we’re thankful that it didn’t fall unexpectedly and damage our house or our neighbor’s. 

The garden on the left of the house looks quite different now. It’s open, sunny, and not at all secluded. It looks larger too. Within days the Sum and Substance hostas were fried by the extra sunlight. The plants in the water and bog gardens, however, seemed happier with the extra light. There are new possibilities. Should we plant another tree? Could the fence along the driveway be replaced by a row of Limelight hydrangeas?  Would shorter Bobo hydrangeas work where the row of hostas has been? What about a cottage garden style border in front of the hydrangeas? More irises and daylilies? Definitely!

So many things to consider. So many plants to dream about while planning. In the meantime, there are practical considerations – roots to be removed, soil to be leveled, grass to be replaced, and much more. Late fall is a great time to plant trees and shrubs. I suspect that this project will continue to evolve over several seasons. For me, that’s far better than the instant gratification of planting everything at once. Slow gardening; my favorite way to garden.

Dr. Cynthia Wood is a master gardener. Her email address is