Three years ago we bought our house, a 1980s cul-de-sac standard with three-bedrooms and a one-car garage. It’s nothing really to write home about except that it cost a fortune during the housing bubble. It had a sunny southern exposure and hardwood floors, both selling points, as well as a wetlands buffer bordering the backyard. But the front was planted with typical landscape variety shrubs that, to this day, still needs updating.
When we first looked at the house, it was hard not to notice an overgrown tree planted too close to the brick walkway and entrance. The tree’s roots had cracked the driveway, and long, drooping branches dangled onto our heads as we got out of the car. Looped and oddly shaped branches wound their way around the drooping branches; it was the strangest looking tree I’d ever seen.
I did not know then that this tree would come to represent for me life’s most central tenet, the will to live out a true purpose.
“First thing we do is cut that down,” my husband said as he looked up at the gangly thing. The monstrosity seemed to devour the front of the house. Given the damage to the driveway, I knew we’d indeed need to get rid of it. The people selling the house felt differently, though.
“That’s a cherry tree,” the woman said with obvious affection when we came back for a second viewing. “It produces cherries and has a mourning dove that nests in it every year.”
Despite the tree, we were sold on the house, which we thought of not just as a home but an investment. Like the need for an additional bathroom and an updating of the kitchen counters, the overgrown landscaping was just another part of what put the house in our price range. After undertaking other housing renovations, we knew what we were getting into, and we also understood that all of our hard work eventually would pay off with an increase in the home’s value.
My first plan of action was to keep the branches out of my husband’s hair. Since he’s much taller than the rest of us, those drooping limbs drove him crazy. I removed many dead branches, shortened the longest ones, and tried to get the canopy to resemble the shape of a tree, though the seemingly chaotic way the branches grew every which way mystified me.
Our first spring there, red cherries appeared on the tree along with plenty of birds to enjoy them. That year, I did not notice that only some branches had cherries. This would take me another season to figure out.
My neighbors planted a weeping cherry tree in their front yard. It’s a small thing, delicate, thin trunk and graceful bowed limbs. I would never have placed their tree in the same category as the thing in my yard until the second spring when I noticed that theirs had the same pink blossoms as mine. A close inspection of my tree revealed that the branches growing upward possessed white blossoms and the branches growing downward had pink.
I looked online and learned that these landscape ornamentals are actually grafted trees. Branches from the weeping cherry tree are grafted on to a native cherry tree trunk. The native tree branches get trimmed out as the weeping branches take over.
Here is what I read:
One of the most popular trees that is grafted up high is the top graft Weeping Cherry. In this case the seedling is allowed to grow to a height of 5’, then the weeping variety is grafted on to the rootstock at a height of about 5’. This creates an umbrella type effect. In this case the graft union is 5’ off the ground, anything that grows from the stem below that graft union must be removed.
Many people don’t understand this and before they know it they have a branch 2” in diameter growing up through the weeping canopy of their tree. Before you know it there are several branches growing upright through the canopy and the effect of the plant is completely ruined. (McGroarty)
Now knowledgeable about my tree, I feel differently about it, no longer seeing it as an eyesore in need of culling. Instead, it’s a wondrous survivor. This native cherry, after suffering unspeakable injury—circumcision of its natural self—continued to strive toward life sending its branches up toward the sun. Since the buds had not continued to be removed, as directed, the native cherry’s flowering branches grew skyward and eventually produced its fruit. The barren but beautiful weepers clung to the vitality of the original tree, riding up the growth over the years until those grafts became nothing more than an annoyance. They are like scars that remind you of a horrible accident that you survived and from which you were made aware of your incredible resilience.
I began to notice a great many weeping cherry trees in my neighborhood. I counted ten in front yards on the main road that leads out of the sub-division. It’s a favorite of developers, possibly due to low price and high appeal of those pretty draping branches, and my local box retailers’ lawn and garden centers offer ten or so varieties.
Pretty, yes. But also sort of sad. All those native cherry trees decapitated, all those branch buds that would bear fruit denied.
“It’s just a plant,” I try to console myself. But once I became aware, once I understood the nature of this tree-mill, this industrial cultivation, I recognized the injustice, the irony, that for show, for ornament, we cull out the real thing for something else.
It’s been three years since we moved in, and while we rebuilt the front steps for safety, our landscaping project keeps getting delayed behind other more pressing renovations and expenses.
The roots are still a problem for the driveway and the tree continues to be too large. My husband is determined to see it go and rightly; if we are to update and rebuild the entry, it cannot stay. But I’m glad that for now the saw blade remains silent and the tree lives.
I have grown to appreciate it more and more with each passing year. I am grateful for the return of its spring leaves, the exuberant way the white and pink flowers buzz alive with bees, the discarded red cherry pits in the driveway after a banquet feast for the birds, and the way it provides summer shade to the scorching driveway. As I enter my house and walk under its branches, I am reminded to celebrate life, even with all its scars, to keep growing and living.
McGroarty, Michael J, “Pruning Weeping Cherry Trees and Other Budded and Grafted Plants.” Freeplants.com: http://www.freeplants.com/free-article-pruning-weeping-cherry-trees.htm
AUTHOR BIO: CAROLINE WOLFE is a pen name under which author, Marcia Roth Tucci, writes about love, marriage, motherhood and self-discovery. The pen name represents her authentic voice, free from association of her married and paternal names, and links to her maternal heritage. Caroline Wolfe is the voice of a woman, any woman, and the essays explore moments of truth in the life of the author and women around her.
The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.