It goes without saying that I love trees because they are beautiful to look at, because some of them produce fragrant flowers, and because they provide much-needed shade from the heat of the sun. But there is another type of tree that also claims my heart: the plucky tree, the tenacious tree, the tree that beats seemingly impossible surroundings to live and grow. The trees that teach me perseverance.
I took the above photo of a tree in the Little Tennessee River this past weekend. I'm still not entirely sure whether this tree was rooted and growing there, or was merely a branch broken off a living tree, rushed down river and then snagged on some rocks. But it just doesn't look to me to have the shape of a branch but rather a small sturdy tree whose roots had found purchase in the river bed and was flourishing in the midst of enough water to have 'drowned' most other trees.
The above tree is an Ohi'a tree growing in a lava field on the Big Island of Hawaii in Volcano National Park. I learned that this tree (with a bright red flower, below) is the first tree to colonize the inhospitable lava fields, its roots breaking the lava down into a soil more hospitable to other trees and plants. But I admire the Ohi'a tree enormously for its pluck in rolling up its sleeves and getting to work turning a lifeless field into a verdant one.
And what of these brave trees living on top of what looks like a solid rock ridge? I took the above photo in Wyoming's Crazy Woman Canyon. These trees survive ferocious winds while seeking out nourishment from what looks like a barren slab of rock. And yet not only one, but several trees have managed to live and grow for decades there. I think of how I mollycoddle the trees in my yard with compost windscreens and stand in complete awe of the many millions of wild trees who have persisted and persisted, staying true to their DNA-encoded natures, making the world a better place for having lived. I think there are lessons we can learn from them.
I just got home from the FIRST (but definitely not the last) book signing for the book, THESE TREES. It was in Tryon, North Carolina. I had the great pleasure and good fortune of being accompanied by Carol Pearce Bjorlie, one of the poets in the book. Carol is also a professional cellist so she played several songs on the cello for us.
Carol also read her four poems about trees that are in the book and I read poems for half a dozen poets who were not there in person today. In addition to poetry and music I also talked about my relationship with the book, why I decided to create it, problems I encountered and some of my most memorable tree photographs. Next book signing is the Book Launch Party, Saturday, August 26 at 2pm, 60 Caledonia Road in Asheville.
Longwood Gardens is technically in Kennett Square, PA. But to give you an idea of where it is, lets just say it is in a suburb of Philadelphia. It was formerly the private estate of Pierre DuPont, who made his fortune in gunpowder and chemical manufacture. In 1906 he bought the original 202 acres of the land that is now Longwood Gardens and soon began planting decorative trees and flowers. He also built impressive fountains.
Eventually Longwood Gardens grew to encompass 926 acres. Pierre DuPont had no children and was concerned about keeping Longwood Gardens preserved as a garden, so in 1946 he sought and received government approval for the gardens to become a Foundation operated for the sole use of the public.
This massive estate was created piecemeal, with work on one particular type of garden at a time. For those looking for interesting trees you should check out the original arboretum (Pierce's Park) as well as the seven acre pleasure park (Peirce's Wood). Having said that, however, there are plenty of large old trees to draw your admiration from wherever you are ambling. Below is a photograph of a Copper Beech
In the Japanese Garden section you will be enchanted by the many varieties of Japanese Maples that are on display.
I don't generally visit greenhouses unless the weather is very cold, rainy and/or windy. But you should make an exception for the Longwood Gardens Conservatory. First, it is so huge you will almost feel like you are outdoors. Second, they have stunning displays of lots of flowers -- not only the tropical ones we have come to associate with conservatories. Third -- this is where they have their water lily ponds. If you are a photographer you should know that they will not allow tripods inside the Conservatory after noon, so if you want to photograph the water lilies go in the morning!
If you go -- address is 1001 Longwood Road, Kennette Square, PA 19348. Cost of admission is $23 for an adult. They have a fabulous gift shop. They have two types of dining facilites. Restrooms are at the main entrance and also in the Conservatory. There are wheelchairs available for rent. There are drinking fountains and water is also available for purchase. Plan to spend the entire day -- you won't want to leave.
I visited the Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden for the first time in 2017. It isn't far from Charlotte, North Carolina; on the edge of Gastonia. This garden isn't as large as some I've visited. It says it has 100 cultivated acres, but considerably less than that are reached on trails. I'd like to return in the fall when it is cooler and explore some of its acreage that isn't on a trail.
That being said, it is a delightful place to visit. They boast 12 different fountains -- including one called the Alle Garden. It has several arching fountains from two sides forming a 'tunnel' effect. It does, of course, boast a huge Azalea Garden as well as a Children's Garden, Cottage Garden, and other specialized gardens. It also has a very large greenhouse devoted to orchids.
I loved their Horse Chestnut trees, blooming in April. I was astounded by how deeply pink these blossoms are.
Another lovely feature of this botanical garden that I have not seen anywhere else -- if you ask a staff person about the identity of a plant or tree and they are unsure -- they give you a business card with the name and contact information of someone who can help you identify the plant. How great is that? REALLY great, in my opinion!
The official address is 6500 S. New Hope Rd. Belmont, NC. It is open daily 9 - 5. Cost is $12.95 for adults.
They say a picture is worth one thousand words. Mostly I agree with that statement. But if you have looked at the book, “These Trees,” I think you will agree that the pictures have also been enhanced by the words they are paired with. I have had a few people ask me, “How did you ever find so many poems that fit perfectly with your photos?”
How indeed! First, I already knew Carol Pearce Bjorlie and had collaborated with her on a previous project we called “Poemscapes” where we had combined some of her poems with a slide show I made of my photographs that illustrated her poems. Two of those poems, Dialogue and These Trees also found their way into the book. I liked These Trees so well that it seemed natural to use it as the title of the book. Carol contributed two more poems to the book, Green Cathedral and Here – Autumn.
To see those Poemscape slide shows you can go to YouTube and search for:
“Poemscapes Dialogue Between Mountains”
or find poem “These Trees” on Youtube at: https://youtu.be/HrKGHtXVgOo
There are 19 other poets represented in this book. Two of them, Jean Cassidy and Annelinde Metzner, I know socially, or perhaps I should say musically as I have sung with both of them. Kate Stockman I had met at a retreat. The other 16 I found by posting a “Call for Poetry Submissions” on the Creative Writers Opportunities List. The posting was answered by over 90 poets submitting a few hundred poems.
I was amazed myself at the perfect matches I found: Paperbark Maple, by Sally Zakariya, when I already had photos of a Paperbark Maple; Redbud, by Annelinde Metzner, when I already had a photo of a Redbud tree; and Crone Oak by Kate Stockman when I already had photos of beautiful old live oaks taken in Jacksonville, Florida. But many other pairings between poem and photos sprang readily to mind and those were the ones placed into the book.
I had one when I visited the Hortulus Farm Garden and Nursery for the first time in June 2017.
Once you get to this idyllic Bucks County farm it is nearly impossible to believe it
is only about 30 miles away from Philadelphia. The farm house, still used as a residence, was built back in 1793. It is very easy to believe you have time-travelled back to the 19th century, if not the 18th. The 100-acre property was acquired in 1980 by Renny Reynolds and Jack Staub. Staub is a garden author whose work has appeared in House and Garden, House Beautiful, Organic Gardening, Country Living and numerous other publications, as well as books about gardening.
I have visited botanical gardens/arboretums where there were hardly any paths at all, others with paved paths as smooth as a linoleum floors and everything in between. But the wide lush mown grass paths that escort you through this estate are in themselves reason enough for a visit. You pay your $15 admission at the little store at the nursery, are given a brochure with a map and let loose to wander on your own. You can, if you have a group of 8 or more, make arrangements in advance for a group tour guided by one of the owners. As it was, it was just my sister and myself so we wandered around on our own, although we did accidently run into the owner and his friends twice.
The rest of the time we never saw another soul. You can rent the entire gardens, all 100 acres of them, for a mere $2,500 per day for an event or a photo shoot. I still can hardly believe we had the place to ourselves by the sheerest good luck. Our own private Eden indeed.
Thirty acres of the property are broken up into several types of gardens – edible plants, woodland walk, yellow garden, pool garden, herb garden, etc. But a tree-lover would not want to miss the “Specimen Arboretum.” At the entrance to the arboretum is a delightful little garden gate to welcome you.
Once through the gate, the first tree that will stop you in your tracks is a catalpa tree. In mid-June it still had a fair number of flowers as well as some seed pods. Maples, shaggy bark hickory and dogwoods are just some of the other trees on the property.
When we spoke with the owner he said it was a shame we hadn’t been there at the end of May because more things were blooming then. But as it was there was still plenty of botanical eye candy in terms of Indian Paintbrushes, irises and roses. There are also swans, ducks, at least one peacock and horses.
If you visit: the gardens are open May – October on Tuesdays – Saturdays from 10 – 4. The location is 60 Thompson Mill Rd. Wrightstown, PA. If you have a group of 8 or more you can call 215-598-0550 to arrange a tour. Make sure you take water! Once you leave the little store at the nursery there are no rest rooms and no place to procure water, so be sure to take some with you!
Marcel Proust wrote, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
With that thought in mind, I visited a botanical garden last week that I have toured before, the Morris Arboretum, and endeavored to look at the landscape with ‘new eyes’.
To my mind, Morris is both an arboretum and a botanical garden. I base this on the fact that Morris boasts many large, old, beautiful ‘specimen trees’ including these: Katsura, Bender oak, Trident maple, Blue atlas cedar, Lacebark pine, Weeping Canada hemlock, Japanese Stewartia and Threeflower maple which make it an arboretum. The Katsura is massive. The Weeping Canada hemlock feels mysterious and the Japanese Stewartia festoons itself with white flowers.
It is also a botanical garden as it boasts within its rose garden not only roses but also oak leaf hydrangeas, mountain laurel, clematis, foxglove and others. Altogether there are more than 12,000 labeled plants of approximately 2,500 types. Although the tags can be annoying to a photographer, I find them infinitely useful for learning to identify trees and plants and I appreciate them greatly whenever I see them.
Since I have completed my tree book I decided to wander the arboretum without an agenda. I have already photographed most of the major ‘specimen’ trees and I decided to just amble about in my sunhat, with my camera and tripod, and allow myself to be surprised by beauty.
How could I possibly have overlooked the Dragon Spruce? The trunk and needles of the tree are not terribly remarkable, but the roots are! They curl and stretch like ocean waves caught and held fast by soil and rock.
A tree that stopped me in my tracks and literally dropped me to my knees to permit closer inspection of its bark is the White Tigress maple. Look at the bark closely, doesn’t it look as though it is deliberately inscribed? But is the ‘inscription’ meant as decoration or to communicate something? It is said the tree got its name because someone thought it looked like a tiger had scraped the bark with its claws. To me the lines are more delicate than that. Take a look and let me know what you think.
I’m also including a picture of the Chinese Witch Hazel here, although it is a shrub and not technically a tree. But I loved the texture of its leaves. I only discovered after I got home and looked it up that it flowers from January to March and that it has a particularly lovely scent. I never suspected that while admiring its summer leaves.
Of course if one is not on deadline, why not linger awhile in the well- manicured, terraced rose garden? The roses in mid-June were in full bloom as were several other flowers, including a glorious purple poppy.
The Morris Arboretum, part of the University of Pennsylvania’s holdings, is in the greater Philadelphia area. Its address is: 100 East Northwestern Avenue, Pennsylvania.
As I type this, the book, “These Trees,” has been picked up by UPS from the printer and is en route to me in North Carolina. I feel like one of the townspeople in the musical, “The Music Man,” who is waiting for the Wells Fargo wagon to arrive. Except that I’m waiting for the familiar brown van of UPS.
It feels like it is taking ‘forever’ for this book to arrive, which got me wondering -- How long did it take me to make this book? Photographs were taken as long ago as 2009 and as recently as 2017. I first conceived of this book in 2014 when I had a show in a gallery and was very frustrated because the gallery curator wouldn’t let me show only tree photos. She wanted variety of subjects. I thought there was plenty of variety in tree bark alone, not to mention leaves! shapes! flowers! Well, you get the idea. But she prevailed and half the photos in the show were non-trees. All the photos that sold, however, were of trees!
Since 2014 I have been deliberately photographing trees with the thought in mind they might one day find their way into a book of tree photographs. In May 2016 I began going through the thousands of photographs I have on my computer and made a separate file of those I thought might find their way into the book. Then, in November 2016, I joined forces with Gary Perrone, a brilliant Dallas art director and we began working together in earnest to create a book that would showcase trees in some of their many glorious manifestations.
Also in November 2016 I sent out a call for poems about trees to a national network of poets and received submissions from almost 100 poets from California to New Jersey. It was a pleasure to read so many lovely poems and a delight to find that many were about trees I already had photographs of, such as a ‘nurse log’ in the Hoh Rain Forest, redbuds, dogwoods, and paperbark maples.
We had the first draft of the book done in early March 2017. Looking at the first draft evoked a mix of emotions in me: pride that we had gotten this far, pleasure in some of the lay-outs and an intense need to change some lay-outs! But that’s what first proofs are for, right? Fortunately for me it was spring in the Appalachians and I was able to get out and take more photographs without getting too cold and Gary and I revised the book to its current form by the first week of May 2017.
I’ll be using this website to update you on the book, “These Trees,” as well as related pursuits. There will be the occasional updates with more tree photographs. Please drop me a line about the book – especially if you have suggestions for other places where I can photograph interesting trees. I’d love to hear from you!
Ruthie photographs trees because she loves them.
Book Launch Party
Saturday, August 26, 2:00 - 4:30pm
60 Caledonia Road, Asheville, NC 28803
Music by Debbie Nordeen, Carol Bjorlie, Leo Bjorlie, and Ed Hauschild, followed
by a sing-a-long.
"Just Desserts" themed
fruits and sweets.
"These Trees" – Annelinde Metzner,
Jean Cassidy, Robert Ratliff and Carol Bjorlie will read their poems from the book.
Book signing and readings by Ruthie.
POEMSCAPES -- THESE TREES
Audiovisual mix of photographs and poems from the book, These Trees.
Henderson County Public Library
301 N. Washington St.
Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017
3 - 4pm
Admission is free.
Malaprops Book Store
55 Haywood St.
October 11, 2017
October 25, 2017
9am - 4pm