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If These Trees Could Talk

Phillip Meeks | Tree Care





. . . the cherries and elms in the
District of Columbia seem to restore the
wholesomeness lost . . . like a breath of spring,
these blooming icons in the landscape
remind us that America truly is the beautiful.



When the word ?scandal? comes up at a dinner party, two geographical locations on opposite sides of the country immediately come to mind: Hollywood, California and Washington, DC. The fairness of this association game aside, these two cities do lend themselves to the connection, as anyone with a television can testify. But our nation?s capital has a redeeming quality that Tinseltown doesn?t: the famous Washington trees.

Unlike the palms of California, the cherries and elms in the District of Columbia seem to restore the wholesomeness lost to Watergate and Monica Lewinski, and like a breath of spring, these blooming icons in the landscape remind us that America truly is the beautiful.

Outside the White House gates, the famous cherry trees and American elms give character to the Washington Monument Grounds, the streets of the Monumental core, and the various memorials.

The National Park Service cares for approximately 4000 each of elms and cherries, doing inventories and management themselves, but occasionally seeking assistance from private contractors. ?Basically, to help the in-house workforces with pruning,? says National Park Service Regional Horticulturist Robert DeFeo, ?we will bring a contractor in to do pruning and supplement the in-house workforces, but the decisions on what trees to prune, remove ? management and all that ? is totally with the Park Service. To give you an example, it?s a whole lot cheaper to bring someone in to grind your stumps than it is to do it yourself.?



NPS also cares for the trees on the White House Grounds, but the tight security requirements, as one might imagine, places strict limits on outside involvement. So special is the White House landscaping, in fact, that most of the trees in this vicinity were planted by past Presidents, from an elm placed by John Quincy Adams to the dogwoods of the Clinton family.

...They?d tell you the real story

In digging up the roots of Washington DC?s sometimes-less- than-perfect reputation, it should be noted that the namesake of the District of Columbia was involved in something of a scandal himself. Intoxicated with the power of his father?s ax, a young George downsized the family orchard without proper authorization. In his defense, however, there was no cover-up when he was faced with the evidence, but whether he received an executive pardon or a trip to the woodshed remains unknown.

Actually, according to the Mount Vernon Ladies? Association, the cherry tree incident never happened, but was dreamed up by an early Washington biographer, Parson Mason Weems. So, the one story the American people have about honesty and integrity in the Presidency turns out to be a myth. (By the way, that wooden dentures story ? that was a fabrication, too.)

George Washington never lived in the White House, instead residing at his well-landscaped Mount Vernon estate. Relying on his experience in land surveying, however, he did choose the site for the Federal City. That uninhabited spot near the banks of the Potomac now hosts the most powerful city in the world ? and all its associated trees.

The nation?s second President, John Adams, moved into the White House mansion before it was even finished, so naturally, he was struck with the harsh lack of beauty beyond the doors, describing the grounds as ?a barren expanse strewn with building rubble and abandoned brick kilns.?

...They?d give credit where credit is due

This lack of vegetation was corrected when Thomas Jefferson moved into the mansion in 1801. Jefferson, like a modern-day landscape contractor, was multi talented ? statesman, farmer, inventor, writer, botanist ? and according to the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, the third President of the United States cultivated over 250 varieties of vegetables and 170 varieties of fruits in the gardens of his Charlottesville, Virginia home, the Monticello. Here, Jefferson also designed garden temples, grottoes and ornamental groves, much to the delight of his visitors. The Thomas Jefferson Foundation also credits him with writing, ?the greatest service which can be rendered any country is to add a useful plant to its culture.?

And it was just his affection for cultured plants and groves that set the wheels in motion for the present-day White House Grounds and Gardens, as he was the first to develop plans for the White House landscape. Apparently, he was a clairvoyant as well. Sensing a need for privacy within the mansion, he created the southern mounds at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

John Quincy Adams moved into the mansion in 1825, and it was he who saw the need for professional landscape assistance, employing the first full-time gardener.

...They?d say who appointed them to their present positions

A present-day visitor to the White House can stand beneath the shade of history in the elms, magnolias, oaks and maples planted by Presidents and First Ladies throughout the years. For example, these notable plantings have resulted in trees that still thrive in the heart of the Executive Branch:

1826 ? John Quincy Adams plants an American elm on the grounds, which would later be lost. In 1991, however, Barbara Bush replants a grafted tree propagated from the original John Q. Adams elm.
1830 ? Andrew Jackson plants two southern magnolias from his home in Tennessee.
1889 ? Benjamin Harrison plants a scarlet oak.
1893 ? First Lady Frances Folsom Cleveland plants a Japanese maple.
1913 ? The Rose Garden is established.
1922 ? Warren G. Harding plants a southern magnolia; replaced in 1947.
1931 ? Herbert Hoover plants two white oaks.
1935 ? Franklin D. Roosevelt plants a white oak.
1937 ? Roosevelt plants a little leaf linden.
1942 ? Roosevelt plants a southern magnolia.
1952 ? Harry S. Truman plants an English and an American boxwood.
1958 ? Dwight D. Eisenhower plants a pin oak.
1960 ? Eisenhower plants a northern red oak.
1962 ? John F. Kennedy plants four saucer magnolias.
1964 ? Lyndon B. Johnson plants a willow oak.
1965 ? The Jacqueline Kennedy Garden is established.
1968 ? Lady Bird Johnson plants a fern leaf beech.
1969 ? Lyndon B. Johnson establishes the Children?s Garden.
1972 ? Patricia Nixon plants a fern leaf beech.
1975 ? Betty Ford plants an American elm.
1977 ? Gerald Ford plants a white pine; Jimmy Carter plants a red maple.
1978 ? Rosalynn Carter plants a Japanese maple and Jimmy Carter plants a cedar of Lebanon.
1982 ? Nancy Reagan plants two white saucer magnolias.
1984 ? Ronald Reagan plants a sugar maple.
1988 ? Reagan plants a willow oak.
1989 ? George Bush plants a Patmore ash.
1990 ? Bush plants an eastern redbud.
1991 ? Bush plants a purple beech and then along with Queen Elizabeth II, plants a little leaf linden.
1993 ? Bill Clinton plants a little leaf linden, and along with Hillary, he plants a willow oak and an American elm.
1994 ? Hillary Rodham Clinton plants three white dogwoods.
1995 ? President and First Lady Clinton plant another white dogwood.
1996 ? The Clintons plant a fifth white dogwood.

Landscape contractors may wish to take note of one program capable of bringing their clients much closer to these and other notable trees than they might have imagined. American Forests in Washington, DC, collects seeds from historic trees nationwide ? including the magnolias planted at the White House in memory of Andrew Jackson?s wife, Rachel ? and grows seedlings for sale to the public. This program can create excellent possibilities for clients seeking a sense of history in their landscapes.

In terms of fertilizer being shoveled and tangible fruits being vastly outnumbered by showy blooms, it could be said that Washington politics and landscape contracting aren?t that far apart, but of course, this is just one way of looking at it. It can also be said that landscape trends, like national and international politics, are constantly changing. Only those Presidents or landscape contractors who are truly willing to understand and even embrace change can effectively serve their constituents.

May 2001


 
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