The full value of trees

I think Jefferson would be pleased by the trees at Monticello today. An entire forest of them was behind where I stood to take this photo in June 2014.

I think Jefferson would be pleased by the trees at Monticello today.
An entire forest of them was behind me where I stood to take this photo in June 2014.

“I never before knew the full value of trees. My house is entirely embosomed in high plane-trees, with good grass below; and under them I breakfast, dine, write, read, and receive my company. What would I not give that the trees planted nearest round the house at Monticello were full grown.”Thomas Jefferson

Because military families have to relocate frequently, we learn which features we most value when looking for a new home.  High on my list — perhaps at the top of it — are trees.

Even in places such as Texas and California, where trees are not as plentiful as they are in the southeast, we managed to have some beautiful ones in our yards, and nearby.  Here in Virginia, it’s a bonanza for tree lovers.  They are everywhere.  We have a HUGE oak in the back yard of our York home that is larger than the tree planted by George Washington that I featured in the post one year ago today.  Sometimes I like to imagine young Powhatan natives walking past it when it was a tiny sapling.

There’s a downside to having lots of trees, of course. They require maintenance, some of which has to be hired out at fairly expensive rates, and storms can leave a lot of debris and cleanup, or worse.

One morning after days of steady rain,  I had the stunning experience of watching a very tall tree fall across the creek from the neighbor’s yard on the other side.  It hit the ground with a loud BOOM and narrowly missed the roof of our detached garage, leaving a section of our back fence in splinters.

Neighbors tell us that Hurricane Isabel uprooted dozens of trees in our immediate vicinity shortly before we moved to Virginia.  Our home was among many that needed roof repairs, and even though all those repairs were taken care of before we moved in, Jeff and I spent years clearing fallen trees from our wooded lot behind the yard.

I still think trees are worth the risk and expense.  They provide shade to keep things cool in the summer, privacy three seasons of the year, and beautiful leaves in the fall.  The birds and squirrels add entertainment, and the sound of the wind in the branches is wonderful to hear.

Do you have favorite trees near your home?  What kinds of trees do you like best?

One year ago today:

If I do nothing else


  1. singleseatfighterpilot

    Maple, Oak (at least 17 varieties of them), Cypress (btw – did you know it’s a deciduous conifer?), Hickory; and the now endangered Eastern Hemlock.
    Also the White Pines, Sourwood, Poplar, Cherry, and Dogwoods are nice.
    Ash – how could I leave out White Ash?

    • Wow, it sounds like you have even more variety than I had imagined! Lucky you. No wonder you call it “the Woods.” 😀

  2. bobmielke

    The news media doesn’t talk about this much but mankind’s cutting down our forests is largely responsible for climate change. Trees cool the earth, replenish our oxygen and provide a huge ecosystem for plants, animals and insects. I live in logging country in the Pacific Northwest. It would make you cry to see a huge area of forest clear cut, nothing but stumps remaining.

    • I hate to even think about it. When you consider all the ecological ramifications of wasting paper (vastly increased due to its being so inexpensive) it makes sense to go paperless as much as possible. I’ve been recycling paper literally all my life (starting with the paper drives we used to have in elementary school, where we brought old newspapers in for recycling way back in the 1960’s) and I re-use paper for all sorts of crafts, including making envelopes from old magazine pages (mostly for fun). But admittedly, such things are less than a drop in the ocean, and the paper industry is only one part of the problem. What happens to all that land that has been clear cut? More industrial development?

      • bobmielke

        Honestly the government now requires the logging companies to replant the land. The problem is it takes 25-50 years to regrow. It makes me want to cry when I drive/ride by clearcut land right next to the highway. When flooding happens during our rainy season soil erosion happens as well. You can’t legislate that.

        • 25-50 years sounds like forever, and for people our age, that’s like “never” when it comes to being able to enjoy the trees. I guess it’s good they are replanting instead of building casinos or something, but still it’s bound to be sad. We had to have an old dying tree cut down and that was hard enough for me, though our neighbors were relieved to see it go since it might have hit their roof if it fell. BTW the tree I saw fall was uprooted by many days of rain that washed the soil around the roots into the creek. You’re right, some things cannot be legislated. In fact, most of the time, even those things we think we can control by legislation really can’t be.

  3. Such a lovely place to be. I envy. I envy. 😛

    • Asha, that little spot is a island of sanity for me amid the troubles of the past two years. I cannot walk past it without feeling blessed, no matter what else is going on. BTW I enjoyed visiting your blog. We had a Schipperke, which is a breed that’s a lot like a Spitz (except the Schipperke has black fur) and I loved this sentence from your blog: “I totally strongly believe that the world would have been absolutely incomplete without BOOKS and DOGS! If you too agree, then we are going to be the best of friends.” I think you’ll find lots of people here who agree. 😀 Thanks for visiting!

      • After I wrote this comment I realized I was thinking of the post I had recently been working on for two weeks later, not today’s! That one has a picture of some trees near our home that I love to walk by on my daily walks. It will be published on October 5. Unfortunately I don’t get to go to Monticello often — that was my first visit there — but I agree with you that it is a lovely place to be. Sorry for the confusion. That’s one disadvantage of preparing my posts two weeks in advance.

  4. Julia…good morning. We have beautiful crepe myrtle trees at each end of our front porch and along the sidewalk of our home. 🙂
    they’re beautiful spring, summer and fall.

    • Merry, anyone with crepe myrtles has a lot to enjoy. It must be wonderful to have so many around your home. We just planted another one but it’s still small (so far we have only one large one). I read in our homeowner’s association magazine that “crepe myrtles are the official tree of Kingstowne” (that’s the section of Alexandria where we live) and I have learned to love them even more since living here in this neighborhood. They are abundant in York County, too. Are yours the kind that turn bright red in fall? The ones in our yard are just yellow or gold, but there are some that turn very bright red, lots of them all over the neighborhood, and they are FABULOUS! I love it when they start to turn and there is still some green and each tree has several shades of color at once. Maybe as gorgeous as when it’s in full bloom.

  5. It really is amazing how long a life some trees will have. Many generations can take photo’s under or in front of the same tree. We come and go, yet a good tree in a good location will continue to provide shade for years and years. Luckily, there are a good number of giant trees in our neighbourhood. They contribute so much, as your post mentions. They can also block an unwelcoming view in an urban setting. Planting a sturdy hedge of cedar can be much less upkeep than a fence that requires constant sanding, painting or replacing.
    My favourite tree is one I’ve never planted. They need a giant space to grow. The Maydays are gorgeous in the spring. They smell just yummy and in our climate, they’re one of the showiest yet easy to grow showy specimens. Here’s a little post

    • Wow, those are beautiful! I had never heard of them. It’s amazing to me how many different flowering trees there are. I agree with you about planting the cedars as a good alternative to fences. Several of our York neighbors who have corner lots with a side facing a street have done just that. Also a neighbor in back who lives on the other side of the creek did the same, and it’s like we get the benefit of his trees for privacy on our lot. So much nicer than a fence. I’m so happy that you have a lot of giant trees in your neighborhood! That’s something no amount of money can buy if it’s not already there.

  6. I love the power of the oak tree. That will always top my favorites list, but right behind that are redwoods, pines, and all the changing trees that turn bright red, orange, and yellow in the fall. There is something magical about lying under a weeping willow that makes it easy to dream.

    • Jenelle, I agree with you on all of those. When we lived in northern CA we had willow in both our front and back yards, and the landlady’s landscaper was always telling her to get rid of them (apparently they are invasive and ours were too close to the house). She kept them until we moved out, because she knew how much I loved them. I’m sure they are long gone now, but it was wonderful to enjoy them during those 5 years.

  7. Larry

    Black Walnut, Birdseye Maple, Cherry, African Blackwood, Ebony, Cocobolo, Purple Heart, Zebra wood, Dogwood, Apple, Peach. They all have wonderful qualities when turned into duck calls, platters, bowls, vases, lidded vessels, pens and pencils.

    • Larry, we have some beautiful things you have made from wood. I wish I had brought back some Koa wood from Hawaii for you to craft with. Wood has such nice rich and varied colors and grain that enhance the gifts you make.

  8. Julia, we have Wax Myrtles and Pink Majestic Hawthornes in our yard but there are many Palm trees to enjoy close by. 🙂 I love to hear the wind blowing through the fronds. It really sounds tropical and can be quite loud. Our trees have grown much larger than we ever imagined but the shade provided is so enjoyable. We have a call to our landscaping service now as we’re facing the decision of trimming or removing! We have a few sunbeams today! How about you?

    • Pink Hawthornes are a shrub Jeff and I like. I’m going to ask the landscaper if he thinks they would grow well on our lot. Unfortunately, we can only visit outdoor palm trees since they won’t grow around here, but I do try to get some houseplants from that family. We’ve had rain today, but you just sent me a few sunbeams! 😀

  9. Michael

    The crepe myrtle seeds I got from Atlanta are now little trees about a foot high. Not sure they will make it outside yet. We also have the trees Eric mentioned which we call Bald Cypress. They drop their leaves(needles ) in the fall and are the only deciduous tree to do so. This tree was once thought to be near extinction and is an ancient tree- at the borderline of evergreen and deciduous.
    I miss the little leaf Lynden trees from last summer in New York and also their wonderful Plane trees with their leopard skin bark of many colors. But I don’t miss the female Ginko.
    Have you heard of the Hummingbird effect?

    • I hope your crape myrtles make it. They are so beautiful when the flower and again when the leaves turn color. One nice thing about living or visiting in many different parts of the country or world is learning about the vegetation, especially trees. I had not heard of Plane trees nor of the Hummingbird Effect. Is it anything like the Butterfly Effect?

  10. Michael

    We also have Douglas Fir, Sitka Spruce, Western Hemlock, California Myrtle, Big leaf Maple and River Birch. Also Alaska cedar, western red cedar and Shore Pines.
    My favorite is the Mountain Hemlock.

    • I love the evergreens, especially anything naturally shaped like a Christmas tree. I like the way they give privacy and also a touch of green in the winter. But I also appreciate the deciduous trees that give us shade in the summer and “let the sunshine in” in the winter. I love the smell of cedar and pretty much any of the evergreen needles. I saved some of the needles from the last “real” Christmas tree we ever had (a Douglas Fir, in 1999) and the last time I checked, the needles are still fragrant. I have them in a net bag in my closet.

  11. Michael

    In 1977- the year my first son was born- we planted a Douglas Fir seedling on our parking strip. That tree is now truly enormous-almost 75 feet high with a girth of almost twenty feet. A terrible mistake and I am sure the water company will force us to remove it- but that would be rather difficult now-or impossible. I was thinking of writing a little children’s story about it.
    If you like Christmas tree shaped trees you might like the little Alberta Spruce- “abies picea.”
    It is often used for a miniature Christmas tree and last year they were also selling the little Italian stone pines at the grocery stores for small X mas trees. I don’t know where these come from. Here they also sell miniature Xmas rosemary trees, but these rarely make it past New Year and are easily killed by overwatering.
    The western Red Cedar was called the “tree of life” by the Chinook Indians here in the Northwest and it was used for everything from building canoes,to houses and shaping bowls and the bark also has medicinal properties.

    • That’s AMAZING to have a tree that big! You will have to call in the pros if they ever tell you that you have to remove it. I hope they don’t. I think I’ve seen some of those Alberta spruce trees on people’s porches at Christmas (one on either side of the front door) but I don’t know if they would live year round here since we are in zone 7 I think. I was considering getting a miniature live Christmas tree to substitute for doing the big tree at York since we are up here a good bit of the time, but I’ll have to give it some more thought. Maybe I could get one that I could transplant after using, but I’d have to put only a few of my ornaments on it if I wanted to avoid killing it with too much weight!

  12. Michael

    Yesterday I got a little flowering maple “Abutillon” to stick on the deck. Last year I had one that bloomed into October; Then hit by two frosts it finally succumbed. I am not sure if you have these on the East coast but they are pretty awesome little plants.
    I am reading Lamot’ts “Travelling Mercies” now. It’s funny -I talked about her hair before and she has a chapter about how she came to the dreadlocks. They sound like a lot of work and when she talks about her hair when she was a kid I think of that little girl in the cartoon who was asked if she put her finger in a light socket. I think it was the “Little Rascals” but that is way back with a young Robert Blake.
    I just wish she would not say all the negative stuff about her mom. We all have dirty linen in our family closets, do we have to air it in public? This is what therapy is for. As far as mixing the spiritual with the everyday she does a wonderful job.

    • Michael, I looked up “Abutillon” and all I got were pictures of horses – I must have misspelled it. Re – the finger in the socket — I was actually asked that question by someone who was making fun of my frizzy hair when I was in 8th grade. He asked it in front of a crowd of people at a football game, all of whom laughed at me, and I felt so humiliated. I’m sure he wasn’t the first or last to ask me that. I agree that Lamott would do well to leave out part of what she shares, but I think all of her readers would disagree on what she should leave out…she’s obviously hitting a lot of sympathetic chords with lots of people, or she wouldn’t be so successful. But I have learned to overlook the stuff she says that I don’t agree with; some of her political remarks are downright mean, and I think that doesn’t enhance her message at all.

  13. Michael

    It is with one L- Abutilon and the one I have is called “Fairy Bright Coral.” It is heartbreaking to think of the pain of those in junior high with frizzy hair whom are teased so mercilessly. Kids can be so cruel. And boys love to tease. That event must go on your list of “most embarrassing moments?” I have a couple of those myself.
    Still her writings must make for tense family reunions. I do appreciate her sense of humor. She has a book on writing? I guess her books would fall into the category of the “Mommie Dearest” tell all testimonials. They just make me uncomfortable-which probably has more to do with my own dysfunctional family history.

    • With the correct spelling, I found it and I really like it – reminds me of hibiscus. I would love to have a flowering shrub like that, even if I had to bring it indoors over the winter. We have a Rose of Sharon that has done surprisingly well considering it’s planted where it obviously doesn’t get enough sun (it’s back in the wooded part of our lot). It sort of reminds me of the photos I found of the Abutilon.

      Re: the cruelty of kids – I got plenty of it when I was in 7-9 grades, the most miserable years of my entire life. From where I sit now, I’m grateful for it (though I might not have survived it had I not had the security of loving home and church families). What it did for me was make me determined never to allow any such to go on in my presence. Of course, that determination has bordered on obsession since Matt was born, as kids with “special needs” are so often disregarded or ostracized by those who seek out only those friends who are in a position to benefit them in some way; people who are at least on the same level when it comes to status in various areas. I now know that people who persecute others have issues of their own; that doesn’t excuse them but it does make it easier to disregard the cruel words. Once when Matt was in junior high (the cruelest years for many of us, I believe) his teacher actually tolerated the cruelty and told Matt just to say to himself “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me.” I taught Matt a different version of that rhyme: “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can hurt my feelings.” I didn’t want him to think it was OK for people to treat him badly as long as it was just verbal abuse, even if the teacher tried to make it sound like no big deal. As I said, I am very grateful to know how it feels to be excluded. It makes me all the more resolved not to do that to anyone else.

  14. Michael

    My favorite thing about the Crape Myrtles- is the multicolored bark. Nothing like these on the West Coast-but the Madronas -which are all dying- may come close.

    • That bark really is striking, isn’t it? It’s sad that the Madronas are all dying.

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