For the past 20 years, I’ve been planting trees on a strip of neglected public land along Hwy. 100 in Edina. The highway is separated from a lake by an earthen berm, covered with weeds and few trees when we moved into the neighborhood almost 30 years ago.
The first few plantings failed in the dry, silty, alkaline soil. Still, I persevered. I learned which varieties were more likely to survive, how to amend the soil and how much water they needed. I learned how to protect the trees from weeds, climbing vines, deer and small animals. I learned that trees don’t read books — some of them thrive where they aren’t supposed to, and some of them die no matter how hard you try to keep them alive. Gardeners will understand.
Over time, as my family grew, so did the trees. I left an opening along the top of the berm, wide enough for the occasional truck or tractor from the city. Our neighbor Roger kept the path mowed. People walked their dogs. Boys built forts out of branches (we had to discourage campfires, for obvious reasons). The trees provided shade for us and shelter for wildlife. We saw songbirds, deer, eagles, foxes, cormorants and turkeys. We had a buffer against noise and pollution from the highway.
This fall, the heavy equipment arrived to clear a path for the new bike trail, part of the Three Rivers Park District. I had envisioned a cool, shaded bike path/nature trail winding through the young forest, with birds chirping overhead. Unfortunately, what we found was a swath of destruction a third of a mile long, wide enough for a three-lane road.
Gone are the twin Colorado spruce I found on sale at Lyndale Garden Center. Gone are the Black Hills spruce, a tough, drought-resistant evergreen. Gone are the Myers spruce, a better alternative to the Colorado in Minnesota. Gone are the ginkgo and the Mongolian oak, both natives of China. Gone are the Scotch pine whose thick branches seemed to reach out as you walked by. Gone are the amur maple, carefully positioned among the evergreens to show off their fall color.
As I walked out, I noticed a small tree along a fence at the edge of the devastation. A tree with dark green leaves in the middle of November and small black berries a month earlier. They left the buckthorn.
Fortunately, a narrow strip of trees along the lakeshore, including some of my favorites, was spared. There is a line of Norway spruce over 30 feet high. There are two 20-year-old bur oak, still in early childhood. There are young chinquapin oak, whose brick red fall color should add a contrast to the yellows and oranges of the aspen and maples. There are hybrid elm and a few northern red oak.
Last spring, we bought some land north of Cambridge. There are wetlands, pasture, a few tillable acres, some woods (including buckthorn) and a pole barn. I’m planning to cut some trails (there won’t be any bike paths). This year I planted 25 swamp white oak, and I’ll continue planting as long as I can.
Gardeners will understand.
Gary Copland lives in Edina.