The Planting of Princess E


Where we left off: Elizabeth of Milarch Nursery tagging the Princess Emily
Princess E and traveling companion, a London Plane tree, on flatbed trailer with Kevin, who is about to cover them both for the ride to Royal Oak
. . . which was no small feat. Princess E may look small, but she was very heavy!
Straightening her out
Nick and Dean mulch Princess E with Ailanthus (“Tree of Heaven”) woodchips. Notice the honey locust watching over the scene in the background, just on the other side of out carport. February 2019, the month the Arbor Day Plot was conceived, Singing Tree visited me for the first time, to trim this honey locust. See that adventure here:
3 minutes of water and she’s good to go.
Princess Emily planted in her “forever-home,” Tuesday, May 26, 2020
Now for ferns for her backdrop and hostas, perhaps, in the foreground (and, of course, more river rocks)
Princess Emily tonight, her third evening here, enjoying a light drizzle with the American beech, who is the canopy to her understory

The Dogwood Chase

Okay, so I’m a tree nerd. I know at least two others. (And, you know who you are.)

I woke up this morning at 5:00, and I was too excited to go back to sleep even though the alarm wasn’t set to go off until 7:00.

So, I got up and went out in my bathrobe and bare feet to listen to the birds singing up the sun and to contemplate my work of yesterday:

The cool morning air smelled especially sweet. It was a good time and place for plotting.

The plan was to be at English Gardens by the start of their “At-Risk Hour,” 8:00, so I could take some photos of the little dogwood and maybe of Kevin D., who had helped me pick it out Thursday. I needed to get there during the At-Risk Hour and before Dean and Nick from Singing Tree picked it up and brought it to my house to plant. Satisfied with the plan, I went back inside and made a special breakfast of French toast to kick off the special day.

Off to English Gardens

Because I can count the times I’ve left my house in the last 10 weeks to go somewhere in my car without resorting to having to use my toes, it seems to take me an even longer to leave with everything I need to navigate with less risk through the world. We almost made it out of the door by 7:50 for the 9-minute drive to English Gardens.

When we arrived at the English Gardens’ tree department, the overhead jets of water were up and running . No surprise. Craig wandered off to find some morning glories, and I went to find the Cherokee Princess that had been tagged for me on Thursday. But, she wasn’t where I had last seen her.

Tree guy Kevin D wasn’t coming in until 11:00, so another tree guy helped me. He said she would be in the backlot if she was sold and being picked up. When he walked around the fence, I sauntered around into the employees-only area with him. He went through the trees one by one with no success.

We went back around to the trees for sale, and both got wet looking for the Cherokee Princess. I did notice that someone had bought her sister, and taken her home with them; there were no more Cherokee Princess dogwoods available on site.

Yesterday’s weather: breezy and hot

We returned to the backlot. I had noticed it the first time and performed a silent tsk-tsk disapproval when The Other Tree Guy walked by it. When he went by it again without doing anything–in his defense, he was intent on finding my tree–I bent down and picked it up.

Apparently, the wind had blown this stick of a tree over. Had it been frying in the sun and 90-degree Memorial Day yesterday, the hottest day of the year thus far? Where was the rest of its rootball?

And, more importantly, when I picked the tree up, besides the sold tag, why was it decorated with a polka-dot ribbon that had my name on it?

The Cherokee Princess had been found. But even The Other Tree Guy didn’t give her good odds for surviving and sent me to the Customer Service counter for a refund, being that there were no other white flowering dogwoods of any variety for sale; the season was over here.

Plan B takes shape

On my way to Customer Service, I sent Emily Brent of Singing Tree the text: “Stop the presses.” Fortunately, she understood what I was trying to communicate.

It was clear that when manager Sean was paged from the Customer Service Desk, he didn’t believe my story. When he saw the tree for himself, however, he took a picture of the rootball to send to the nursery from whence it had come.

While I was waiting for him to refund the cost of the dogwood from my charge, I text Emily we were going to “brave going to Telly’s.” This was going to get done. Today.

She texted back that Kevin Bingham, her partner, was heading to Ray Wiegand’s Nursery on Romeo Plank Road in Macomb and would she like me to call and see if they had any Cherokee Princesses available.

As he was handing me my receipt, Sean mentioned there were Cherokee Princesses at two other English Garden locations. Nope. An underlying current of possibility was surfacing on this beautiful day.

We had just loaded the morning glories (Heavenly Blue) and two big pots of geraniums (one pot at $10 got you another one free) when Emily texted me back: “They have Cherokee Princess!”

East to Ray Wiegand’s Nursery!

I asked Siri to navigate to Weigand’s, a 32-minute drive, and we were off. The morning reminded me of leaving to go on vacation as kid. That kind of sky, that kind of freedom, that kind of anticipation.

Just for the record, I did raise the question of whether this was an “essential” trip. WWWS? (What Would Whitmer Say?) If the greenhouses and nurseries are open, are we only supposed to be purchasing their plants and trees via delivery? (Probably.)

I’d met Kevin when Singing Tree trimmed the Honey Locust that had me awake worrying at night (my first posting on this blog in February of 2019), and I trust him 100% to pick out a good tree.

And yet my car kept heading east.

Until we got here:

Sterling Places Plaza on Van Dyke (M-53), just north of Metropolitan Parkway (16 Mile Rd.) had a completely empty parking lot when I pulled in to read Emily’s latest text.

Emily texted “We have a change of plans.”

Although on Friday, Wiegand’s had had 20 London plane trees–the reason Kevin was heading there (for one)–today, they had zero.

West to Milarch Nursery!

So now, instead, Kevin was headed to Milarch Nursery on Haas Rd. in Lyon Township, where they had both London plane trees and Cherokee Princesses.

Siri got on it and west we went, about 45 minutes worth. (Taking the Wixom exit off I-696 and then a couple of miles on Grand River Ave. gets you in the vicinity).

What an amazing nursery! (Check out the aerial view of the nursery on the homepage of their website.)

To the Dogwoods!

The directions we received were to walk to a green dumpster–maybe a quarter of a mile–turn left and “walk two long city blocks” to the dogwoods.

The entrance road to the 27.5 acres that is Milarch Nursery, a four-generation family business (The green dumpster did not come into view right away.)

But before she gave the directions, one of the nursery staff, when I asked, said they had two types of white flowering dogwood: Cherokee Princess and Princess Emily.

I’d forgotten about Princess Emily, a variety I’d come across online before Arbor Day 2020. A newer variety of Cornus florida. This is all I’d been able to find out about the variety:

“‘Princess Emily’ Dogwood . . . is a selection of Cornus florida that has (unusual in a dogwood) a strong central leader. The spring flowers have rounded, white overlapping bracts.The leaves are very similar to Cornus kousa but have a glossy appearance and turn to a brilliant red color come fall. It also has a high resistance to powdery mildew and will show continual growth even in the drier parts of summer.”

— David Dermyer of Christensen’s Plant and Hardscape Centers in “Some New Trees for 2016”

I had taken Princess Emily out of consideration because of the “strong central leader.” Remember, I wanted the classic layered look. But this morning, I found myself excited to be actually able to compare two different varieties of white flowering dogwood.

Just as we got to “Dogwood Row(s)”, we ran into Kevin and together, the three of us first passed a number pink dogwoods to arrive at quite a number of 9.5-feet-tall white dogwoods in bloom.

Dualing Princesses

Had I ended up planting the Cherokee Princess from English Gardens, or had Kevin picked a Cherokee Princess out for me from Wiegand’s or Milarch’s, I would have been very surprised come spring, with the respect to the former, or if Kevin pulled up in my driveway with a Cherokee Princess in bloom from either other nursery.

I would have been sure the nursery had made a mistake. One look at the blooms, and I would have been positve I had a specimen of the “Appalachian Spring’ variety of dogwood. This was the variety about which I wrote in a posting a few days ago:

I don’t care for the space between and slight curl of the bracts.

But here at Milarch Nursery, for the first time, I was seeing dogwood bearing both their nametags and blossoms. And, I got a big surprise.

The Cherokee Princess: notice the narrowness of the “curly” bracts; notice the spaces between them.

But Princess Emily, on the other hand, had the squarish flower bracts I liked and some very shapely trees.

Of course, the first Princess Emily I picked out had been tagged by someone else. But, with Kevin’s helpful suggestions regarding branching, I picked out a second-best and had it tagged.

Meanwhile, Kevin went to look for London Plane trees. He received some inaccurate directions, and while he didn’t find the London Plane trees (the only one that the nursery had left was actually at the end of the rows of dogwood trees). But, while he was looking, he found a section of smaller dogwood trees, maybe 7 feet tall. He suggested I have a look as smaller trees have a better chance of surviving the planting.

I walked to the other section of dogwoods, and there she was. The fiirst tree since I started looking to whom I had an emotional reaction.

Elizabeth of Milarch Nursery tagging a ‘Princess Emily’ flowering dogwood for me

And just that easy, and with that much lead-up to it, the search was over.

Princess Emily, my chosen one among many

Yep, tree nerd.

A Perfect Day for Making the Bed

Last year, in preparation for the brickwork across the back of our carport storage area, I spent a very long day removing a very full bed of very old euonymus. That mass of entangled vine stretched the width of this new bed and came out about four feet from where the brick is now. That particular portion of the new bed provided the easy digging today. The Wisconsin river rocks were repurposed from the ginkgo bed in the front yard. The Cherokee Princess dogwood will be planted where the sun-catcher is stuck (it looks like a stick here), at the halfway point in the width of the brick wall.
My husband, Craig, caught this shot when I thought I was nearing the end. Nope. The longer I dug, the more I kept imagining what else I could plant in the bed if only it were a little bit bigger . . . and then a little bit bigger. Fortunately, the photographer returned with another shovel to lend a hand at the end!
The other measurement I used to determine where the dogwood would be planted is from the point between the French doors in our 2019 bedroom addition (in the background above). The dogwood should provide a nice focal point in the view from the doors all year ’round.
Post-clean-up, post-shower, and post-G&Ts . . . here’s the bed ready for the Princess’s arrival from English Gardens via Singing Tree. After the tree is planted tomorrow–at some (safe) point–I’ll need to return to Haley Stone Patio and Landscape Supply for enough river rocks to complete this larger-than-planned semi-circular bed.

A great Memorial Day project for keeping busy all day at home!

Singing Tree and the Honey Locust

I shot this photo with my back pressed against my front door, looking across our single-lane driveway to the honey locust tree. At the top of the photo, you can see the overhang on the east side of our house. On the left side of the photo is the roof of our carport. Within 8 feet of the trunk is our neighbors’ house.

Without a doubt, this tree should never have been planted where it is.

This is the biggest of three honey locusts planted around our house. While I can’t separate this particular honey locust from the other trees planted between the two houses in earlier photos of our property, you can just decipher the slender trunk of the honey locust planted in our front yard (in what we think might be the 70s, judging from the car).

A member of the pea (!) family (Fabaceae), honey locusts are fast-growing trees. The one on the drive may have gotten a boost in 2007 and 2008 from having its roots cut along the entire west side of my neighbors’ house when they had a foundation added to their house. A tree service consultant told me at the time that such cutting shouldn’t hurt the tree, and in fact, may make the tree grow “like a weed.”

Maybe it has. But some developments that I’ve noticed over the last two years–involving its trunks, branches, and roots–have worried me.

The Bump

A bump just below the first fork (aka crotch, or main union) of the tree had appeared and seems to be increasing in size. What is causing it? Is it making the main union weaker?

The bump extruding from the trunk just below the main union of the honey locust on our driveway.

A little bit of research indicates that the bump is a burl. Most burls result from some sort of injury to the tree or infection by viruses, fungi, bacteria or insects. Lovely.

While burls are prized by woodworkers for their unusual woodgrain pattern, I’d prefer not to have one growing off the trunk of a tree for which I’m responsible.

Deepening Divisions

The burl isn’t the only thing going on with the trunk.

Instead of possessing one solid round-in-diameter trunk, like the other two honey locusts have, this one seems to be a composite of four pole-like legs with what appears to be deepening divisions. Imagine four very large asparagus stalks rubberbanded together, covered in bark, and melded together in the middle. Squirrels have taken to storing their treasures in the crannies between the segments. Does this unusual structure make the tree stronger or weaker?

Chipmunk Bunker

Our driveway has been cracked for a long time, maybe since before we moved in. It’s become clear from their location that the cracks are caused by the apparently flourishing roots of the honey locust. This past year, a crack became an open crevice. Judging from activity in the fall, a very cozy chipmunk is hibernating there now.

Icy Fingers

Despite having had deadwood trimmed and the crown raised higher above our roof a few years ago, when ice coated the branches and twigs during storms this winter, I could see–and my neighbor Kate could hear–the tree’s fingers dragging along her roof.

Seeking Advice

Our former tree service consultant suggested we put four metal bolts through the trunk to hold the segments together and install two cables in the tree’s crown. However, this was not going to be cheap or guaranteed. Maybe I should spend just a little bit more and have the tree cut down instead?

When I asked for a second opinion of a highly recommended arborist at a local nursery, she asked for photographs. Basing her opinion on the photographs I e-mailed her, she basically responded, “Bad spot for a not-good specimen of the species. Remove it.”

This seemed harsh. If the tree did not pose a danger to my neighbors’ or my house, who was I to remove it?

This arborist, not knowing that she was my second opinion, offered the contact information for another arborist to provide another opinion. He came out, saw the tree, and said that while his opinion was that the tree never should have been planted where it was, there was no reason why it would not stand.

On the other hand, he continued, there is never a guarantee. Some of the strongest-looking trees fall. Oh, great.

Complicating Factors

Did I mention that both of the entrances to our house are off of our driveway, directly across from the tree? And, that a honey locust, while providing beautiful dappled shade with its ferny “twice compound” leaves composed of small leaflets. . .

Photograph by Paul Wray, Iowa State University

. . . loses those small leaflets when they are green, yellow, and brown, all year long. I am forever sweeping and picking up small leaflets tracked in on the soles of every single person who enters our home.

Tracked in just today when I went out to take the photo of the burl: a honey locust leaflet wearing its winter color and posing on a one-inch square tile.

This honey locust has probably been growing in this spot for about 50 years. Trees of this non-native species generally live 100 – 125 years. And, now the decision whether it lived or died was up to me. My husband, wise man that he is, knowing how I felt about trees, refused to offer an opinion.

What I Wish

I fervently wish that the tree had never been planted where it was. Or that one of the two owners of the property before I moved in had removed the tree. But it was, and they hadn’t.

I would be excited for the opportunity to have a new smooth driveway poured come spring.

I would be so very happy to be able to stop sweeping–or feel like I should be sweeping–my seriously cracked drive, our two entrance stoops, every room in my house.

I would love for the small leaflets–along with the increasingly big worry that keeps me awake these windy nights–to simply vanish from my life.

But . . .

But when this honey locust is in leaf, the tree rises above our houses in a fountain of green that can be seen upon the downhill street approach across from our houses or from an around-the-block stroll.

It is a part of the neighborhood’s canopy, a canopy which has already been severely diminished in the last 5 years by developers’ greed.

The honey locust’s trunk with a circumference of 6’8′ also creates a division between my neighbor’s windows and the windows of our living space. We are very fortunate to have good neighbors on both sides of us, but with respect to the east, our houses would seem much closer without the honey locust between them.

What to Do?

Until this week, I thought the best thing someone could have told me was that the inside of the tree was rotten and that a wind like those we’ve had in the past week could blow it over. Then both my worry and the mess of the leaflets could have been removed without evoking any guilt in me about removing a mature tree. But then my neighbor suggested I call Kevin Bingham of Singing Tree, who had taken care of her mom Sue’s trees.

Singing Tree

Singing Tree also trims the trees inside the Belle Isle Conservatory and outside of Detroit’s Dorothy H. Turkel House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1956.

Kevin’s partner Emily Brent came out to have a look at the honey locust. She suggested trimming the tree’s crown up 5 – 10″ feet above my neighbor’s roof and dealing with the water drainage problem between our houses as the way to stop the tree’s roots from their interest in cracking my neighbors’ foundation.

From the ground, she was not worried about the burl, the divided trunk, or what the roots were up to. She suggested their crew leader, Evan, could do an aerial inspection and before either trimming or removal commenced, we’d have a conversation. I made an appointment for Monday morning at 9:00 a.m..

Monday Morning 8:45 A.M.

The Singing Tree crew showed up a few minutes before the appointed time and got right on it.
Singing Tree Crew (left to right): Crew leader Evan and Dean, checking out the tight situation, and Nick, who’s attending to the flatbed trailer down on the street.

Crew Leader, Evan, prepares for an aerial inspection of the main union of honey locust.
The Singing Tree crew did a fantastic job of cleaning up!

A Reprieve for the Tree

The honey locust passed inspection. Emily, Kevin, Evan, and Dean all agreed that they’d not have planted the tree where it is, but that they would not remove if it were in such a location on a piece of property belonging to them.

Another Decision

Given the positive experience I’ve had with both partners and their crew, I’ve decided Singing Tree will be monitoring the honey locust along with the rest of the trees on my property in the years to come.

And the Winds of the Last Week?

At night, I listen to the wind in the trees outside my window. Then I drift off to sleep, with no worry. And, no guilt.