Conflicting values: support the garden or protect the ozone

I consider myself a friend of the environment. I tick all, or at least many, of the right ecological boxes. Eat locally, garden organically, walk or bike when possible, when not, drive a small, fuel-efficient car. The thermostat is set so low in our house that my fingertips are nearly numb. My heart has always been in the right spot (actually left, that is) when it comes to conservation, global warming, environmental safety, etc.

But. . .

"Sliver" in winter. Garden in foreground. Camera can't even take in the top!

Yes, there is a “but” in the form of a gigantic silver maple tree, known by the ironic moniker “Sliver,” that has grown at the back of my property for as long as I’ve lived here (over thirty years). Judging from the size, it’s been there much longer than that, though silver maples grow quickly. I’m guessing that it’s easily pushing 90 feet in height and its base, which is now a fused composite of a half dozen trees can’t be much less than six feet in diameter. It’s big, but it’s not and never really has been beautiful. “Venerable” is an adjective that you might assign to an oak or even a Norway maple. Can’t really think of adjectives for this one except “big,” “shady,” and “leafy.” It’s doing its job and I commend it for that. It’s chowing down on lots ‘o carbon dioxide every summer and reducing the temperature in our back yard and the rear of our house. And here’s the “but.” It’s shading my garden.

In Sliver’s defense

Last August and October we “enjoyed” some challenging weather here in Connecticut. August was a hurricane and October was an early Nor’easter that dumped a foot of wet snow. The winds from the hurricane, which technically was only a tropical storm when it swooped down on us, brought down countless trees and limbs and left our street without electricity for nearly seven days. October’s snow fell on deciduous trees that still had most of their leaves. The big, wet flakes clung to the branches causing them to snap like toothpicks. (Sorry for the overused metaphor, but it really applies here.) The October storm darkened our home for nine days this time. Through these two exceptional storms and hundreds of other less notable ones, Sliver has stood firm, losing only an occasional branch here and there.

Not made in the shade

“So what’s the story here?” you patient reader are probably asking. The answer is Sliver is located directly behind my garden. Those overarching branches shade the plot from about 10:00 a.m. until about 4:00 p.m. during the summer. The roots, which one horticultural site describes as “extensive and intrusive,” sap the nutrients from my sandy soil faster than my compost can replace them. Gardens and trees do not make good bedfellows. Duh!  It’s been a battle between me and Sliver for many years, but Sliver has kept the upper hand for many reasons.  One of the fasting growing maples, Sliver managed to turn into a giant without really being noticed. While I was busy watching my children grow, he shot up to a size that made negotiating nearly impossible. Trim him? Ha! Even when I was able to affect a major trim for him, his fast growth nulled the effect almost immediately.  To remove him completely would cost about the price of my first car.  Hard to argue the economics of this. The ROI (return on investment) timeline, even if you priced the vegetables at their Whole Foods equivalent out of season, would be marked in either decades or centuries — certainly longer than my life expectancy. Plus, he hasn’t killed anyone yet or done appreciable damage to our house; most of the branches that he as dropped have landed in the garden crushing the kale or smashing the tomatoes. Had I been in the garden when some of his branches dropped, I’d have certainly sustained life-threatening injuries. But Sliver knows better, so he does his best to keep his branches to himself. And not the least of all is the argument in favor of peaceful coexistence. I’m a pacifist and a tree-hugger by nature. Surely there must be a way for my garden and Sliver to get along.

Branch over wire -- no power on street for 9 days!

typical scenes of destruction from October storm

Guess what? There’s not. And as my sixty-fifth birthday looms on this year’s horizon, I say that it’s time to vote in favor of the garden. As I lobby my point with Bob, I have recent weather on my side. Yes, we escaped the last two storms, but what about the next? Check out some of the damage on our street from the October storm! Our home would be reduced to kindling if Sliver fell our way. Plus, I don’t argue the value of the delicious veggies that we’ll get, but rather the cords and cords of hardwood that we’ll reap. A much more effective tactic. Yes, I’ve suspended my environmental conscience for a bit, and that’s why I’m writing this confession.

Bob is getting quotes as I type. Stay tuned to see the outcome.