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In this time of blizzards and tornadoes, yet another winter storm passed over the East Coast yesterday and last night. Here is a picture of my garden this morning, followed by a photo of the neighbor’s angry Norway Maple bare of leaves and subdued under a coat of snow.  It’s hard to believe that all of the crocuses, tulips, daffodils, and hyacinths are sleeping beneath the drifts.  Since I’m leaving before Spring and won’t get to appreciate the bulbs I planted, maybe it’s best not to think about them and to picture the garden this way from now on.  I can just imagine it as forever free from aphids and leaf rot and imperfection–permanently suspended under a pristine coat of white…

Argh no, it’s still a frustrating picture.  What is the point of gardening or painting or toymaking or starting anything?  It’s all just going to get ruined by the ineluctible forces of entropy.

Stupid winter!

Park Slope Garden on January 27th, 2011

The neighbor's Norway maple--for once not actively trying to kill all the plants around it

A Frost Giant pushing to end the world of order and crush all things under an endless cascade of ice...wait, a minute, how did this picture get in here?

It has been a while since I posted anything about my garden.  Late spring’s great suffusion of roses is long gone.  My roommate pulled up my last toad lily during a one day reign of terror.  She also killed the hapless iris, pulled up the tulips, and unpotted several unlucky caladiums (however that terrible incident is now long passed).  Currently the garden’s plants seem wearied and wilted by July’s melting heat.  All of them are quiescent except for one: the mighty and sovereign king of the garden is unfazed by hundred degree heat and blazing sun.  Neither drought nor inundation can touch it.  It is the main feature of my garden (even if it is technically in the neighbor’s yard) so I have decided to blog about the hateful but extraordinary Norway maple tree (Acer platanoides).

I was unable to take a good picture because it is too big to fit in the frame (and I was unable to move farther away).

The maple is magnificent.  It is taller than the four story brick townhouses around it and it spreads as wide as it is tall.  From March to December it is covered with big beautiful yellow-green leaves.  It has a strong handsome trunk and a lovely shape.  But, to quote Wikipedia, “Unfortunately, despite its good looks and urban hardiness, [the Norway maple] releases chemicals to discourage undergrowth which tends to create bare, muddy run-off conditions immediately beneath the tree.”  That ‘area beneath the tree” compromises the majority of my flower garden—and the tree doesn’t stop with herbicidal chemicals.  Throughout the entire year it drops all sorts of stuff.  First it drizzles a layer of sticky sap in spring, followed by bushy chartreuse flowers, and then by countless thousands of helicopter seeds.  The seeds burst into life everywhere and must be constantly weeded out of all pots and beds. In autumn the maple drops enough yellow leaves to smother the garden outright.  Winter brings showers of twigs and limbs.

The trees around the Norway maple are afraid of it and are trying to escape.  The black cherry in my yard is bending away from the maple and trying to escape through the neighbor’s workshop roof.  Next door, a little ornamental tree is leaning away at a 45 degree angle.  All smaller plants within twenty feet of it that are not in pots wind up dead.  Every time I have put a trowel in the ground I have uncovered one or more of the tree’s roots.  I imagine it in slow motion over the years, wracking surrounding stone and concrete and leaving the lesser trees dead or growing away from it as best they can.  Its as though a fifty foot tall green Viking sprouted up over the course of a decade.

The wild cherry tree in my backyard is trying to escape through the neighbors mystery shed.

Naturally the Norway maple is an invader.  People brought it from Europe and Southwest Asia where it is one of the dominant trees.  They planted it here until it suddenly dawned on them what a mean & aggressive plant it truly is.  Now it is banned in several states.

The Norway Maple's wild range: continental Europe & beyond....

Though seemingly impervious to diseases, insects, and other plants, the mighty maple has two implacable enemies.  Summer thunder storms are capable of breaking its huge limbs as are the nor’easters which range up and down the Atlantic coast later in the year. A bough dislodged by a virulent winter gale smashed the fence to bits last winter.  Finally humans are a threat to the tree: dodgy electricians (I’m not saying ConEd) ran a big electric wire right through its central fork.  Whenever the maple sways in the wind, it blackens and sparks around the wire.  I worry that someday the electric company and the elements will conspire to bring the whole thing smashing down in a maelstrom of rock hard limbs and sizzling wires.

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