Onwards and Upwards; Horse Chestnuts

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Horse Chestnut
Horse-chestnut Aesculus x neglecta ‘Erythroblastos’

Gardener Duane West (right) tackles a wayward horse-chestnut (Aesculus x neglecta ‘Erythroblastos’).

When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade, and Heronswood has been learning to love lemonade. We’ve had some difficult months with greatly reduced staff and few or our excellent volunteers on hand. With the garden closed, we’ve also missed the sight and sounds of visitors as they explore. But early on, we decided to make use of this down time to complete some much-delayed garden projects. Our construction expert Alan Hanson has pulled down and replaced half of our backyard arbor, while a swathe of new plants now populate our soon-to-open Renaissance Garden. We’ve also taken the opportunity to reassess the value of some of our trees and to remove those that did not provide sufficient color or presence in the landscape.

One such tree is the horse-chestnut Aesculus x neglecta ‘Erythroblastos’, a former denizen of the island beds that line our parking lot. This tree’s main claim to fame is its spring foliage, which for a handful of weeks, is a riotous shade of pink. Then it turns green – show over! There are flowers, but of a yellowish hue that makes them almost invisible from the ground. The bark and fall color are also of negligible interest. I’m really not singing its praises! Its final flaw is that it also blocks out sunlight from the rock wall behind, where Mediterranean plants now struggle in the shade. It had to go.

Any of you who are familiar with our gardener Duane West, will know that he has an affinity for pruning. So much so, that when a shrub is drastically pruned, we like to say that it’s been “Duaned”. It will therefore come as no surprise that he was at the forefront of this tree’s removal, with some assistance from me. Light now floods into the rock wall, and we didn’t stop there. An oak and a hornbeam have also gone and a few more trees are slated for removal.

Joking aside, taking down a tree is never an easy choice. Given that most will outlive us, removing them can seem contrary to many gardeners’ gardening ethos. But it’s worth remembering that gardens are contrived landscapes, sculpted by their owners and removing a tree that has outgrown its allotted space will allow for a range of new plants to grow and thrive. Here at Heronswood, we are developing a new western woodland, which will be filled with trees collected in the wild by our Director Dan Hinkley. And by removing trees around our parking lot, we will allow more light to return, enabling us to grow some of the many plants that thrive in sunny locations. The last few months have been trying, but we’ve taken the opportunity to move the garden forward and we hope that when your return this weekend, you will enjoy these changes.

– Dr. Ross Bayton, Heronswood Assistant Director