Plant a Tree

04 Aug 2021

These backyard friends will grow along with you

Story and Photos by Christine Hall

Planting a tree in your home garden is usually a well-thought-out process. Unless you are like me and see a delightfully appealing (but slightly unnecessary) exotic fruit tree for sale and make an impulse buy. While it did make going to the grocery store that day more pleasing, we now have a ‘pineapple pear’ tree in our backyard from our local grocer.

Allow me to regain your confidence in my decision making. Along with this pineapple pear tree, we have, over the years, planted a weeping redbud, an apple tree, a fig tree, an American hornbeam, and several maples. Each has been from our local nurseries, or on several accounts, sprightly volunteers transplanted from my parent’s yard.

We marvel at the beauty of every tree, nourishing them like our children and sustaining them through heat and drought. Not only because we helped cultivate them, but because their life sprang from our land. Our hope is that these will be the trees our children climb. And the fruit borne will be shared at
our tables.

My adoration of backyard trees began on trips to my grandmother’s house in Greensboro. Behind her home she had a fig tree and a giant cherry tree with a flat board swing. Exploring her backyard was magical, and the trees purely divine. I remember the way the ground looked with gumballs in the morning dew, left astray from a nearby sweetgum tree. And I recall the way the clay felt under my toes as I walked to the fig tree.

Wangari Maathai, the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner, had a similar admiration of her homeland. As a young girl in her central Kenyan village, her mother taught her reverence to all nature. The local fig tree in their village was ‘a tree of God,’ so sacred that villagers only approached it barefooted. Ceremonies were performed under its canopy, and tales were passed on through generations around it.

My attention turned back to trees of the homestead while recently reading Nature’s Allies by Larry A. Nielsen. The book, penned by a Professor of Natural Resources at North Carolina State University, profiles the lives of eight pioneers, including Wangari Maathai, from modest backgrounds that grew to bring about extraordinary change in the path of conservation.

Maathai’s story was of particular interest to me because of her lifelong desire to live in balance with nature. After returning to her village as an adult, Maathai saw the degradation of the natural beauty of her beloved homeland that was the result of British colonization of the lands. Local lands that had once been used by native farmers for their livelihoods had been converted into tea plantations and other crops for export. Native African villagers were forced into wage-earning laborers, often separated from their families across different, now colonial-occupied, lands.

Maathai confronted this social and environmental injustice in a way only she knew how. By planting a tree. First in her local village, and later in villages all across south-central Africa.

She taught local African women how to plant rows of trees from seed and how to care for them. The trees began to rebuild their lands and once again provide food, fuel, and healthier environments. These small, but unified planting practices eventually grew to more than 900,000 village women planting 50 million trees.

A seemingly small contribution brought about extraordinary change. How does this relate to you and me? My plea is that you will also be inspired to plant a tree.

Fall is the perfect time to seek a new sapling for your own yard. Adding a properly placed tree can offer numerous benefits to both your outdoor and indoor living. Consider this:

A well-designed backyard is both aesthetically pleasing and functional. Trees add scale, balance, and rhythm to your landscape. They provide canopies of shade and screen views for privacy. They are safe havens for wildlife. And no two are alike.

While the sentimental value of a special tree can be immeasurable, trees have also proven to have a positive impact on your personal finances.

How many of your childhood memories include the trees in your backyard or old neighborhood? Who is to say your one special arbor contribution will not have as big an impact as Wangari Maathai’s? Planting one is a beginning.

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