What the unexpected loss of a weeping cherry tree teaches me
Two years ago, we planted a stunning Snow Fountain weeping cherry tree in our front yard. Its branches were espaliered on an umbrella-type trellis, adding a very dramatic presentation to a garden with a life of its own. The tree made it through a very cold winter in 2017 and last spring, the blossoms were extraordinary.
As we began work in the garden in April, I noticed the buds that formed on the branches over the winter weren’t flowering. I sent images to the nursery where we bought the tree and was told not to worry and to wait until everything around us turns green. As I waited for the green leaves I went online. Weeping cherry trees are grafts of two, sometimes three, trees to create those gorgeous, flowering branches. I found the graft around the neck of the tree, under a cluster of branches.
Everything greened up around the neighborhood this weekend, so my husband and I headed out with clippers to check the branches. To my horror every single branch above the graft was dead.
Every. Single. Branch.
I was shaken. After cutting away the dead limbs, my husband sawed off the portion above the graft and we wrapped it in a blanket and drove it to the nursery, hoping for an emergency miracle. The news wasn’t good. We were told our weeping cherry, which we now call ‘SF,’ is not coming back in this state. Unless we attempt to graft it ourselves, the tree stump is all that’s left. I felt like someone had kicked me in the stomach.
Finding it hard to identify why I felt so miserable, I recalled a phrase from Franciscan priest and author, Richard Rohr,
“How you love one thing is how you love everything.”
I never thought of the digging and weeding and dead-heading and watering as acts of love toward these living elements that surround us. Yet I follow a rhythm with bulbs and perennials and flowering trees. When I plant bulbs in the autumn I envision them resting and growing underground for months in the bitter cold, until they peek through the snow-covered ground to show themselves in full splendor. I, too, use the winter months to store up strength and develop new thoughts and ideas, and in spring I find I’m ready to present myself to the world with a fresh outlook.
When I put seedlings in the raised beds that become our tomatoes, lettuce, strawberries, peppers, kale, and herbs after Mother’s Day, they are planted in soil that we have carefully cultivated for the best growth. Should an unexpected hail storm pass through, we have barriers and cloth to protect the tender chutes. As a result of these efforts, a myriad of vegetables and fruits fortify us throughout the summer and fall.
You can find numerous studies/articles on how gardening:
- relieves stress
- rests your mind
- improves your mood
- provides more vitality
- impacts depression
- staves off cognitive decline.
Even without a garden, you can immerse yourself in a natural environment by walking through a park or botanic garden, driving to the mountains, hiking or sitting by a stream.
If you’re not able to get out at the moment, bring that life indoors. In my office I’m surrounded by orchids and bromeliads, a peace plant and succulents. The air quality in this room is fairly astonishing. You know how I keep them alive? I water them. Period.
As I peer out the window and see the place where ‘SF’ once stood, my connection to all the surviving plants emerging from a long, cold, winter seems stronger than ever. Even though I don’t admit that I talk to our greenery, there is a sweet communion here.
We did move ‘SF’ – now a 6-foot tree stump – to the backyard, where we will attempt to graft it with new life.
Or maybe it will show us how it will thrive in a most unusual way.
And for the record, we replaced ‘SF’ with a Summer Storm tree lilac. The nursery landscaper assured me it will live through anything.