I am looking out the window of my home office and admiring the growth that occurred on the native Canadian Larch outside. This is the 10th anniversary of our move into our ‘new’ home in the country and I am reflecting on how the landscape has changed. It was my goal, when we first moved here, to take this flat-as-a-pancake field of soybeans and make something beautiful out of it. Not that soybeans are ugly, I just felt that I could do better.
The first step in creating my dream garden was to walk with a small sledge hammer in one hand and a broken hockey stick in the other. I started at the road and began to pace without counting – just looking at the endless field of green in front of me. I stepped high to avoid damaging the beans and arrived at what felt like a good spot to stop. Breathlessly, I turned around and looked behind me at the road. A truck went by and I measured the noise reduction since I left the side of the road.
“This feels about right” I thought. “There is room here for a few trees.”
I drove the broken hockey stick into the ground where I stood and was instantly excited about the prospect of honouring the land with trees and the wildlife that they would bring. Bird song and hummingbirds would populate this piece of ground from now on.
Once the beans had been harvested, the hockey stick provided my mark for the planting of a 600-tree native cedar hedge; straight as a die and one meter high.
After the hedge was planted, the trees arrived. Some we planted by hand. I remember chaining some deciduous trees whose root mass was held together with a wire basket and dragging them one by one across the property behind an old pickup truck.
I marshalled the help of friends like my daughter Heather, assistant Brenda, Accountant Sig and right-arm-man Rudy in planting 180 native trees: planted in one fine April day.
The larch that is standing outside of my window charged its leaf and stem growing cadre with growth cells in the fall. It will push new growth come drought or high water during the upcoming growing season.
Mother Nature holds a fascination that just will not go away. I have always marveled at the ability of a hummingbird to fly from my yard in Stouffville to somewhere in Brazil and back again each year. I cannot understand how a robin will arrive here from the deep south each spring and nest in the same tree.
A tree will stand in the same place for its entire life and never whimper or stray from its roots even once. During that time it will cast cooling shade, convert carbon dioxide into oxygen and who knows, maybe someone will cut it down when its life is over and use the parts for firewood or to mill into lumber to build a house.
LEAF Ontario has determined that the economic benefits of a single tree is over $160,000 over its lifetime. At that rate, I have more than $32 million worth of trees on my property. I do not expect that I can take that to the bank, but I don’t care. The more that I learn about trees, the more I appreciate their ‘pricelessness.’
After I hammered the hockey stick into the ground and planted the cedars, I got to work on creating a path system, planning out my hummingbird and butterfly gardens, songbird meadows, vegetable garden and of course the chicken coop.
It was a year after the hockey-stick experience that I finally paced off the land that I had carved off the farm and discovered that I had created a 10-acre garden.
Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, Member of the Order of Canada, author and broadcaster. Get his free monthly newsletter at markcullen.com. Look for his new best seller, The New Canadian Garden’ published by Dundurn Press. Follow him on Twitter @MarkCullen4 and Facebook.