The gardener's eye

The Gardener's Eye

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Going, Going, Gone

The Mighty Oak Tree on High Street

The View of the Crown of the Oak Tree From My Garden

Getting Ready to Remove the Oak

About Two Thirds of the Branches Have Been Removed

An Enormous Crane Carries the Huge Branches to the Ground

The Arborist Gets Ready to Attach the Cable to a Branch

The Main Trunk

Another Look at the Main Trunk

A Stump 64 inches in Diameter

Elephantine Logs

The Stump

The New Appearance of the House

The Large Oak in My Yard

The Small Oak in My Yard

I am not ordinarily a tree hugger, especially since we moved to New England. Turn your back on a field for 10 years and you have a science experiement illustrating the finer points of forest succession. At the turn of last century, something like 20% of New Hampshire was deforested. Today approximately 80% of the state is again woodland. Trees want to grow here. That said, there are some trees that I feel are sacred. The mammoth red oak, Quercus rubra, three houses down from our house on High Street was one such tree.

I became acquainted with this fine tree when I was searching for our first house in 1989. There were three houses in the neighborhood that I looked at. The old cape at the corner of High Street and Vine Street was very sweet but seemed a little small for our needs but I couldn't help but admire the enormous oak tree on the front yard. We ended up buying a house up the street and I was fortunate enough to pass this glorious tree on my walk to work each morning.

Early one morning last spring, I was driving to go on a hike and I couldn't help but notice that an enormous branch had broken off the tree and crushed the second floor of the house. Fortunately, the owners sleep on the ground floor and no one was hurt. During the summer, the entire second floor was replaced by the insurance company. Their only caveat was that the tree had to be removed in order for the owners to remain insured.

Last week, the Arborists arrived and methodically removed the tree, branch by branch, with a pair of cranes. I had always figured the tree was ancient but the aborist determined that it was about 150 years old. The remaining stump was 64 inches in diameter. There are two red oak trees in my garden. One is about 90 years old the other is probably about 45 years old. I take comfort in believing that my trees are the progeny of that magnificent tree down the street.


  1. It is sad when a big old tree has to come down but sometimes when they are too close to houses it has to happen. My father had a 50 year old Spruce in his yard that I warned him about. I said it would probably come crashing through the new big bay windows of his living room extension. He ignored me and luckily when that nor'easter came through it fell the other way and ended up in the driveway.

    Anyway interesting that you got to document the process of the oak being removed and hopefully you will have an arborist come look at your trees and remove any potentially dangerous branches before they land on you!

  2. Hi Kaveh,

    I think suburbia is filled with forest trees planted too close to homes. Norway spruces, in particular, seem to be very popular for the yard. I'm glad to hear the tree in your father's tree didn't hit the house.

    Fortunately, my oak trees are not close to the house. I am having an arborist come this winter to limb up the oaks in my garden, mostly for aesthetic reasons. I am trying to create more light and space for the trees and shrubs which I have planted beneath my oak trees.

  3. I guess I'm a tree hugger because I think that's insane!

  4. Hi Joe,

    Which part is insane?

    The arborists had determined that the tree was no longer safe. From my point of view, as much as I loved that tree (it was my favorite in Peterborough), it would probably be best to take it down. If I were their neighbor, I would have been very nervous about leaving it. That last length of trunk weighed 5 tons!

    We would all be well-advised to pay attention the the mature size of a trees when choosing a tree for a small lot, or any situation for that matter. It is "right plant in the right place," just on a grander scale. It would save a lot of heartbreak in the end.

    I guess I would call myself a selective and discriminating tree hugger. I wont hug just any tree. Sadly, sometimes we need give a beloved tree a big hug before saying good-bye.

  5. WHAT a tree, Michael! A good point you make - that any planting should be appropriate, or else we create unnecessary problems down the line. I wonder what will be planted now, if there's any room in amongst the old roots.

  6. Yes, Faisal, that was a magnificent tree. It is very common, here in the East coast of the US, to have trees in suburban lots grow to be quite large specimens. It is unfortunate that smaller trees (there are so many good choices) that are the right scale, were not selected in the first place.

    The owners are planning to leave the stump for now and have no plans to replace the oak tree. They also removed about 6 white pines trees from the property and are looking for ideas for their replacements. That could be a nice opportunity to add several small ornamental trees that are a better scale for the lot.

  7. Wow! It's like losing an old friend, no? Really changes the landscape of the neighborhood.

  8. Sorry. I must have missed the part of your post where you said the tree was no longer determined to be safe. If the tree was diseased, then I can see where felling it would be justified. However, here in New England, if we cut down every tree that dropped a branch during its lifetime, or because we thought it MIGHT fall on a house at some point, our townscapes would look very different. And, I see that happening all the time; where perfectly healthy trees are toppled to quiet the fears of some insurance company. Or, because people don't want to invest the time and money to take care of them. I do appreciate your point about selecting the right tree for the right spot. On the other hand, we didn't get gorgeous streets with names like Elm Boulevard or Maple Avenue because they were lined with dwarf crabapples. There are times when living among great beauty involves a little risk.

  9. Michael, It is like losing an old friend. I still having gotten used to the appearance of the house without it. It still feels very strange.

    I agree, big trees are wonderful in a lot of urban places. Thoughtful tree selection is still very important. We have planted many disease resistant elms in Peterborough and one by one they are dying. I think Elm tree nostalgia has caused us to put all our eggs in a basket with a hole in it die to . It is probably a good idea to give some other species a try.

  10. I am confused, I thought the tree that came down was an oak?

  11. Hi Jane,
    Yes, this tree was an oak. In a related point about good tree selection, I was using the American elm as an example of a tree likely to fail due to overplanting which can cause susceptibility to disease. I hope that makes sense. Thanks for your comment.

  12. Parfois,les règles de sécurité, obligent à des gestes cruels. On ne voit jamais avec palisir, abattre un arbre. Ne pas oublier que comme nous, ils sont de vie éphémère mais que bien souvent, ils vivent plus longtemps que nous.
    Beau reportage.


  13. Thanks, Roger. I often think of what events that tree had lived through. It was a sapling during The Civil War, here in the United States. My house had not been built yet. Many births and many deaths have happened while it lived on this street dispersing hundreds and hundreds of acorns. Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

  14. I have come to the determination that sometimes these trees just have to go. We have an enormous Swamp Maple (Acer rubrum) in our front yard that I feel is a ticking time bomb but can't muster enough gumption to take it down. I hope they pick out another species that can live there within the limits of their property.

  15. DFP,
    I think it is the sad truth. I gardening mentor once said that a tree lost is always an opportunity. I try to look at it that way. I will interested to hear what happens with your swamp maple.



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