Our house came with six fairly good-sized trees. Two in the front yard and four in the back. It occurred to me the other day that I know absolutely nothing about them. I have no idea what kind they are. I know one of the two in the front yard is some kind of pine tree and all the others are the kinds that lose their leaves. That’s all I’ve got.
We’ll get to the reason why it occurred to me that I didn’t know anything about them in a minute. When I realized my lack of knowledge on the tree subject, I also realized that they are the only things I own that I don’t know a single thing about. I can’t think of anything else that I own that I am so wholesale ignorant about as my foliage. They just came with the house.
I could tell you at least seven details about my fence right off the top of my head. I know lots of really un-interesting facts about the water heater. I know the tonnage of my air conditioner, and the BTU rating of my furnace. I know what the roof is made of, the R-value of my insulation, and all about the inner workings of the toilets. Those things all came with the house, just like the trees did, but for some reason, I have no knowledge, nor do I have any interest in gaining any knowledge, about the trees.
Actually, it’s not just the trees, but the bushes as well. I couldn’t be less interested in them. When we bought the house a few years back, one of the first things I did was figure out the automatic watering system. There are in-ground sprinklers for both lawns, and a drip-line system that runs around the entire outer edge of the property, servicing all the trees and shrubbery. The first thing I did was turn off the drip system.
I simply do not feel the need to spend my time and money maintaining a drip line system and buying water for flora that should be able to survive just fine without my help. Plenty of trees and shrubs out there survive on just the water God sees fit to give them, and I don’t think mine should have any kind of special treatment above and beyond that. I don’t want to coddle them! I figure, if they survive, great. If they don’t, then it wasn’t meant to be.
Truth be told, I really only water the grass because it’s not socially acceptable to let it go native, either. I really don’t like spending my money hydrating something that grows perfectly fine on its own, just because my neighbors and my wife think it should be green year-round and be mowed every week during the summer. But, in this life, you must pick your battles.
As you may have guessed, I don’t exactly have a “green thumb.” I don’t know if my inability to care about plant species identification and welfare stems from my lack of ability to cultivate them, or vice-versa, but either way, it’s just not there. That became abundantly clear to me last year when our garden failed miserably.
Now, don’t misunderstand. I do water the garden. I have no problem with that, because the garden usually pays me back with produce. Our past gardens had done OK, producing what I considered a healthy amount of tomatoes, zucchini, and the occasional jalapeño pepper. Last year, however, we grew exactly one strawberry, four tomatoes, and zero zucchini. Most of the plants themselves grew a little, but produced basically no fruit at all. If you have ever grown zucchini, then you know its plant is like a weed. Normally, you have to be careful how close you plant them to everything else, because they will grow at a rate of three feet an hour and take over the whole garden. Last year they got about eight inches tall and quit. How could that have gone wrong?
I was lamenting our garden’s plight to a friend at a late-summer dinner party last year, and she began giving me some pretty startling facts.
“Did the zucchini plants ever flower?”
“Yes, but then, no zucchinis grew and the flowers just withered and fell off.”
“OK, well you would have had male flowers and female flowers. The flowers just never pollenated each other. You probably didn’t have enough bees.”
“I don’t have any bees that I know of. Am I supposed to have some?”
“Well, if you don’t have enough bees, you need to pollenate the female flowers by hand.”
This was news to me. I have to do stuff? I though these things just took care of themselves, like my trees and bushes. And I’m not sure I want to pollenate by hand. The zucchini plants and I have a professional relationship, and getting involved in any kind of pollination activities seems much too personal. I think I’ll just go to the store instead.
Anyway… back to the trees. The thing that got me thinking about how little I really know about my trees was something Son Number One said the other day. One of the trees in our front yard (the one that loses its leaves) turns bright white at the beginning of spring. It sprouts a million tiny white flowers that make for a really nice looking tree for a few weeks, but there is one problem. They smell like death.
These beautiful little flowers give off the unmistakable aroma of rotting flesh. That whiff you get when you walk out into the garage and your brain says, “Dead rat.” That’s what the tree smells like. We have a lot of them in my neighborhood, so for the first few weeks of spring, our street is really pretty, but really stinky.
Number One and I were on the way to kindergarten the other morning, and he pipes up from the back seat, “Hey Daddy. Look at how many death trees there are around here!”
My son was just repeating what he had heard me call the trees, but it got me thinking. Maybe I should learn their real name before we get a call from a concerned teacher.
“Why is your son talking about a ‘death tree’ in his front yard? Is there something you need to tell us, sir?”
On the other hand, the real name, whatever it may be, won’t tell the story even half as well as, “Death Tree.” If that isn’t their real name, it should be. The plant nurseries might disagree with me, however. Something tells me sales of “death trees” might lag a little behind Japanese elms. Maybe they could use the Spanish name.
“El Arbol de Muerte” has a nice ring to it. Come to think of it, I’m going to start telling the boys that’s the name of the tree. They won’t know the difference, and they’ll sound a lot smarter!
Ignorance is bliss, as long as you don’t sound stupid, right?
See you soon,
Copyright © 2011 Marc Schmatjen
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