Thursday, November 5, 2009

Preserving REAL GREEN

Having read so much about how “green” it is to adapt and reuse old buildings, which I heartily support by the way, I thought it was time for me to add my perspective to the tide of articles dealing with eco-friendly practices.

Once upon a time George Ellwanger, noted horticulturist, planted (or so I assume) a Wier’s Cut-Leaved Silver Maple next to his mansion at 625 Mt. Hope Ave. This tree was introduced to the nursery trade by Ellwanger and Barry Nurseries and documented in their 1872 Mt. Hope Nursery catalog with the following words:

“We have the pleasure of offering for the first time this elegant novelty-one of the most remarkable and beautiful trees with cut or dissected foliage yet introduced. Its growth is rapid, shoots slender and drooping, giving it a habit almost as graceful as the Cut-Leaved Birch. The foliage is abundant, silvery underneath, and, on the young wood especially, deeply and delicately cut. The leaf stalks are long and tinted with red on the upper surface. We believe it will rank at once among the most interesting and attractive lawn trees, and may be easily adapted to small spaces by an occasional cutting back, which it will bear to any degree necessary, as well as a willow.”

The tree did grow rapidly and very large. It dominated one side of the house along with the purple beech tree planted nearby. Sadly, in 2006 when the new owner of the Ellwanger Estate hired a professional tree evaluation service to examine all of the trees on the property, the Wier’s Cut-Leaved Silver Maple was deemed a hazard to the house and slated for removal.

Now I had great affection for that tree having enjoyed its stature and its beauty for the many years I had worked in Ellwanger Garden. Many birds and animals called it home and its delicate, drooping branches formed a soft green backdrop for the vivid colors in the garden. So I when the saws and trucks arrived to take it down, I gathered some small branches from the crown of the toppled tree and delivered them to Oriental Garden Supply in Pittsford with a plea to try to propagate a replica or two.

Three years hence, after annual visits to my green charges so carefully tended by the folks at the nursery, I am delighted to report that there are five clones of the very tree that cooled the house at 625 Mt. Hope Ave. for over a century. And what clones! They started out as eight-inch cuttings and now stand almost seven feet tall. Springtime, 2010 will see a “Son of Wier’s Cut-Leaved Maple” growing on the Ellwanger Estate property and in a very few years the branches will gracefully sweep the sky.

And I am thankful to have helped preserve a piece of Rochester’s horticultural history “in the flesh” or should I say “in the bark”.

In the photo: Al Pfieffer, owner of Oriental Garden Supply, displays one of the seven foot tall "babies." Photo by Tom Ewart of Love Arboreal.

Posted by Beverly Gibson
Landmark Society Horticulturist

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