by Henry Lane Hull
When one thinks of individuals with “green thumbs,” for those who knew him, my father always comes to mind. Our neighbor, the late Margaret Hillier, would say that he could grow anything and she was correct. Those who knew my grandfather have made the same remarks about his abilities in the garden.
Unfortunately, that gene has skipped by this generation, and as a gardener I pale in comparison to the two preceding generations, although my enthusiasm is on a par with theirs.
My father spent his retirement years immersed in reading gardening catalogs, writing lists of plants he wanted to order and familiarizing himself with their specifics. In those days we had very limited nurseries here in the Northern Neck. All of that was before the Internet, and he proceeded via the traditional route of opening a book and reading.
He thought expansively and bought in bulk. I recently looked up to see if his favorite nursery in Iowa was still in business. Regrettably it has closed, perhaps because the wellspring of revenue coming from the Northern Neck had ceased?
Younger and smaller was always what he liked to buy and to plant, thus his trees came in bulk as three-inch seedlings, rather than as fewer but more mature specimens. He laid out nursery areas for their propagation, ever noting that he ultimately would be moving them to their final homes. He took three acres out of cultivation at our farm to have room for his experiments, although I must say, as well as to have a better view.
With one nursery he engaged in correspondence with the owner, asking questions, comparing practices and planning orders. I cannot estimate how many nurseries he contacted, and from most of them he made purchases. After he died, I found his lengthy lists of the plants he had planned to order that spring.
Soon thereafter I realized that I needed either a spade or a saw to handle his legacy. I opted for the spade and engaged a landscaper, at significant expense, to transplant his “babies” to wider expanses where they could grow uncrowded by their siblings. For many years the new system worked and the trees flourished. In short, I had given them breathing space.
In time many of his spruce trees, despite their hospitable new locations, were beset with attacks of bagworms, which I again shelled out to have dispatched, successfully I might add. Several years ago a new, more ominous, blight arrived, and the spruces began losing their needles and slowly dying. Apparently, the disease is widespread, destroying Colorado and Costa blues spruces across the country.
The largest planting of blue spruce with which I am familiar was in the yard of L.C. Costenbader, the late mayor of Colonial Beach, who had dozens in neat geometric and radial arrangements. Recently, while up at the beach, I drove past his house where I observed that none of the beautiful trees had survived.
To remedy the problem, this summer the Elder B.E. has begun the process of cutting them down, digging up the stumps and leveling the ground. For many years they have given us great ornamentation and shade, and now as they disappear we are getting broader vistas of view. My father would be pleased that for many years his trees have done well in this non-native environment. Were he here today, he would be ordering replacements. Here the family gene has mutated, for on Sunday the Elder B.E. said that he thought we had plenty of trees, and now we should enjoy our lawn. I suppose mowing is easier that sawing.