Henry Lane Hull

by Henry Lane Hull

Throughout my childhood and young adult life I came to realize that my father had been gifted with the most extraordinary green thumb of anyone I had come to know.

As our neighbor, the late Margaret Hillier, once remarked, “Everything he touched grew.” All his life he thrived on seeing plants develop and he planted prodigiously. Whether trees, or shrubs, or vines, or flowers and vegetables, his charges knew what he expected of them and they performed accordingly.

He did not like pruning, thus his plants had what we might call “a natural look.” Later in his lifetime he became more interested in propagating different species, often without thinking of where he would plant them, how large they would grow, or how he could manage them. As a result he ordered extensively, I am sure to the great delight of the nurseries and seed companies from which he procured his babies.

While the plants were small, they formed an interesting display of botanical and horticultural diversity. As they grew, they formed more of a display of what a North American jungle might appear to be. Three years after he died, I engaged a nurseryman to come to our farm and move some of Papa’s by then adolescent trees. At this point I must admit that I inherited some of his practices, as my Good Wife readily will attest, thus not all of the work was done on his plantings.

One of my father’s strongest interests was in the variety of spruces and he bought accordingly. Those trees proved to be the most expensive to relocate, given their extensive root systems. When moving time arrived, we laid out a pattern and all of the spruces survived and came to enjoy their new locations. One of them was damaged quite severely by Hurricane Isabel, but with careful pruning and reshaping, it did not die, but survived as a hugely oversized bonsai.

Now over three decades after that not inexpensive moving project, the spruces have developed a disease and most of them have died, with those still alive being badly affected. As a consequence the Elder B.E. has assumed the task of cutting them down and removing the stumps. My father would find that effort to be appropriate, but in one area he and the B.E. would be in disagreement.

Were he here today my father would be looking at the spaces being brought forth by the removals and thinking of what he could be ordering to replace the departing trees. The Elder B.E., whose life did not overlap with my father’s, after a hard day’s labor in the grove, announced last week that he wanted no more trees being brought into our yard, which is over three acres, until even more have been removed. I share in that opinion, but with spring being not far away, I am not certain how well I shall be able to resist some of the offerings in this season’s nursery catalogs.

The B.E. has removed some large specimens, but one unfamiliar with what we had previously probably would think the yard still is overcrowded. In the half-century our family has lived here, with the exception of one walnut tree, every bit of vegetation in the yard is the result of our planting.

Shortly after my father died, I found his catalogs from that spring, heavily marked, with the order page filled out, ready to be submitted with his check. This spring I am limiting myself to reading about the various seed varieties and planning to use the logs from the departing spruces to build raised beds.

As the Elder B.E. has grown I have found numerous of my father’s many admirable traits present in him, particularly in working with nature, but when one speaks of intensive tree planting they would differ.