Sunday, 15 January 2012

Twisted Sisters

You may think that the "maples" portion of my blog titles refers to those stately maples that grace elegant  gardens and properties everywhere...those that turn shades of glorious reds and golds in the fall...Sugar maple, or the graceful Japanese, variegated Harlequins, the handsome Crimson King, or the lovely Deborah.

I am sorry to say it is not is something much humbler than that.

I have nine mature maples on my property that came with the our little house when we bought it six years ago. I find them imperfectly charming, though I would I have to admit if pressed, that three of them are just downright unattractive (sorry trees) but I have not figured out the right sort of plan to deal with them yet. So they been given a temporary reprieve.

I have had several groups of my husband's gardening students over for garden tours, and these poor maples, Acer negundo illicit the most heated comments. I think the criticism is a little unwarranted. I had one memorable student, arms waving, teeth clenched (honestly, she did that) decry their very existence, proclaiming that if it was her garden they would have all been cut down before the china was put away in the cupboard. Weeds, she called them. Ugly old weeds. I have to admit I was hurt, as hurt as if she had insulted my children.

Given a choice I would not plant manitoba maples. But I do feel a kinship to them and a sense of loyalty fed by nostalgia. 

A view from the side yard
(one day I will learn to put away my gardening stuff and the kids toys before grabbing the camera)

My Grandma B's garden in Stonewall, Manitoba was contained by a perfectly clipped beech hedge on one side and a row of four manitoba maples on the other. I loved climbing those trees as a child ( I would be sure to break something if I tried that now), loved raking the leaves, loved sitting under their shade. When we first looked at this house in its unmaintained glory, it was the twisted branches of the maples that spoke to me the loudest. They reminded me of home.

They do have their shortcomings...they are messy, always dropping branches and thousands, if not millions of keys that root far too easily in the gardens. The send up suckers relentlessly and require constant pruning several times during the year. They are not what you would call "picture perfect" either with their large gnarly, multi stemmed trunks, branches that shoot out at weird angles, and a fungus that infects the leaves with horrible little bumps otherwise causing no real harm.

But I do love them. They provide the required shade for my shade gardens and lovely spots to sit under. They keep the house cool in warmer months. Their twisted, dancing branches have proven to be very useful for hanging things from... a hammock, a garden swing, bird feeders, and the occasional child who gets their underwear hung up on the branches. Most importantly, their roots have been instrumental in breaking up the solid limestone that I garden on, creating the "deep zones" that I hunger for.

They will not be around forever... Acer negundo is relatively short lived as far as trees are concerned, and some of my trees must be approaching the end of their expected lifespan. We have prepared for this day and have added littleleaf lindens (Tilia cordite), a darling paperbark maple (Acer griseum) and two blue spruce (Picea pungens)  that are taking forever to grow through the limestone, but will hopefully reach a respectable height by the time the maples come down.

But for now I defend my right to enjoy my twisted sisters and proclaim that they too have the right to live out their lives in the protected shelter of my gardens. 

They remind me, humbly,  that we all have flaws and true beauty is in the soul of things, and in the eye of the beholder.

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