Last year, long before Hurricane Irene or the insane Halloween weekend snowstorm, a giant sugar maple tree in our shade garden by the road at Natureworks crashed down onto Rt. 22 at 7 a.m., during the rush hour. This is quite a busy road in the mornings and late afternoons. It was a miracle that it didn't fall on a car. It scared one of my employees just about out of her skin as she happened to be walking by when it happened. It was a rainy morning, and the wind was blowing, but trooper that she is, she decided to come into work anyway. So did I. When I pulled into the driveway and saw her eyes bulging out of her head and she explained why, I realized it was the end of an era for our shade garden.
I knew this tree would die eventually. A few years earlier, I had planted a 'Diane' witch hazel nearby, hoping to grow it to a good size before having to take down the tree. When the giant maple fell, the witch hazel was buried beneath its branches. My heart sank.
The rain continued to pour down that morning. I called the state of CT to report the tree down as my shade garden is actually on state property. The neighboring paving company had immediately come to our rescue and dragged the tree off the road with a big machine, but it had to be cut up and removed. I assumed that the state would take days, if not weeks, to cut up and remove this tree and that I would be looking at a mess for a long time. Imagine my surprise when less than an hour later, a state truck pulled up and the chainsaws started up. I ran outside in the pouring rain and begged the workman at the top of my lungs to try and save the witch hazel. They must have though I was insane. Miraculously, and to their credit, when they were done, the witch hazel was alive and had sprung back to its original position, albeit a bit bent.
The shade garden was no longer in full shade. A mature ash remained, but at the southern end, the witch hazel wasn't big enough to block the sun. All of my carefully chosen deep shade plants were going to fry.
You don't get many chances to plant a tree on a small crowded acre. This was a golden opportunity. The great debate began amongst my staff. We finally settled on a native fringe tree, Chionanthus virginicus. It went into the ground quickly afterwards. It is in full bloom this week and happy as a clam. The shade garden is still pretty sunny, but most of the plants don't seem to mind that much. Every yard, every garden, every landscape is an ever-changing work in progress.