There is a massive tree in the north-west corner of the front garden. Right in the corner, jammed up hard against the corner of the fence in such a way that it must have been planted there well before the fence was erected. In fact, the tree is so large it must be a similar vintage to our 1930s house.
I’m not even sure what species the tree in the corner is. It’s certainly native, possibly from the Myrtle family. The leaves look similar to those of Pohutukawa, yet in two summers we’ve spent here it has never flowered.
It sits at the bottom of the steep path in front of our house, and at the bottom of a large bank that slopes towards its roots. Therefore, it benefits from, and no doubt sucks up a great deal of the rain fall that spills towards its base.
Tui often converse within it’s bifurcating limbs. I’ve seen Piwakawaka dance after the insects that live within the bark and branches. And at night we’ve also heard Ruru announce their presence.
The tree in the corner towers above the roof of our house. In fact, our house sits well below road level and even if you stand on the footpath above our house, the tree in the corner still looks well above head height. It overhangs my neighbours’ fence and shades most of the front garden and path.
The thing is, as bountiful and beautiful as the tree in the corner is, and despite all its redeeming qualities, it simply blocks out too much sun. If I am to make the front section more productive, I need more light. What’s more, the branches have grown up around the power lines, which poses an additional risk.
So I’ve spent some time pondering what to do with it. I started by identifying all the positive things the tree in the corner contributes to our environment:
- Shelter from the nor-westerly
- Soaks up water
- Haven for native birds (Piwakawaka, Tui, Ruru and others)
- Privacy (from the street above)
- Impressively large and beautiful
- Provides shade (shade can be seen as a positive in permaculture too!)
- And it holds my sense of reverence as it has been in place for many many years before we came here.
And then I balanced this list against the less positive aspects:
- LOTS of shade (and consequently damp) in the garden
- Shade footprint is large – takes up productive sapce
- Too close to fence
- Hazardous to power lines (running through branches)
- Leaf litter in drains
- Blocks view to/ from street
In weighing these up there didn’t feel like there was much in it one way or the other. The tree has equal merits and foibles. The three obvious options I’m left with are:
- Leave it as it is, and try to work out a permacultual solution to work with the shady area. Perhaps under-plant with shade tolerant species
- Arrange for the tree to be removed entirely. That could be costly as it would require professional arborists, especially as there are power lines running through the branches. Cutting the tree down would have other consequences too. The rain fall, for example, would likely pool in that corner of the garden. And the wildlife would suffer.
- Thin the tree and remove some of the lower branches initially and see how much that impacted the environment.
There are also outputs and consequences worth noting if the tree was fully or partially cut:
- firewood (which I could potentially sell)
- wood for garden edging
- more wind
- more sun (especially in winter)
- potentially less birds
- more room for fruit trees
- potentially boggy areas in garden
Given the tree has had a long tenure in that position and has had a long time to exert its influences on the local environment, it seemed far too drastic to remove it all at once. So I decided to lift the canopy and under-cut the lower branches. With the help of my wonderful neighbour, Shane, we dropped a number of large branches. Here are the before and after shots ( taken at different times of day):
I realise that cutting off branches older than me and as thick as my arm is a fairly terminal thing to do – they are not just going to grow back over-night, and it must be incredibly traumatic for the tree. It only seemed fitting to treat an elder with respect. So I spent some time with the tree before the surgery, letting it know my intentions. And then after the branches were cut, I let them lie in peace for a period to allow the unseen tree dwellers time to escape the fallen branches and return to the tree.
I wanted to make an offering to the tree in the corner for allowing me to bring more light beneath her branches. I sprinkled my recently acquired packet of meadowsweet seeds, onto the damp soil at her roots, in the hope that she’d accept my offering and allow the seeds to germinate. Meadowsweet is a perennial herbs that likes damp soil and is (hopefully) partially shade tolerant. I think it will be quite happy there now that there is more light.