A doctor friend of ours has a little place in the country, seven miles from the big city hospital where he is a famous heart specialist. It is minor as some country places go—only four acres, rectangular, snuggled against an old farm from which it was carved.
There is a house, a garage, and a barn. These and a flower garden and vegetable plot take up an acre. The other three acres are part of the old wood lot that the farmer next door let become tangled with brambles and underbrush.
The doctor’s three acres of trees are still his woodlot. But it is more than that. He has made it an Eden. For out of the brambles, undesirable weeds, and an unsightly mass of dead and dying trees, lie has created a cathedral in the woods, about which there is a peaceful majesty unequaled by the hands of man.
Just beyond the barn, there is a trail that leads within. It’s barely perceptible from the back porch of the house. But you can’t miss it. Two picturesque white oaks, distinguished by their grayish bark and the way they lean slightly from the perpendicular to form a gate, stand stately and tall on either side.
The deep green sheen of mountain laurel beside the path beckons you in. The trail deepens, then it forks. Suddenly you are miles and miles from the outside, and it seems as quickly as that the spell of the woods is upon you.
Over there lands a beech, the Quaker of the woods, its white-gray trunk in sharp contrast to the hemlock growing at its feet. Nearby stands a giant, the tulip tree, the tallest in the Eastern forest. Farther on is a sweet gum, star-shaped leaves that turn a gorgeous purple in the fall.
They are like old friends. There’s a sassafras tree, like the one that grew in the lane when as a boy, you’d reach up, grab a twig from a load of hay and chew it into the mow. And a hazelnut bush stands at the edge of a bit of clearing, drinking in the sun.
But there’s something different about this woodlot. Then you suddenly realize it’s not a woodlot after all. Artistry about it would have been lost had nature run rampant. Gone is the underbrush. Each tree seems to have its place. And all about is a carpet of glorious wildflowers.
The doctor planned it that way. He did it by cutting. And he did it himself on the weekends and summer days he spends here in his charming bit of woodland.
The trail to the left dips slightly over a rise. There at the foot is a brook with stepping stones, seemingly placed by nature, so you don’t get your feet wet in crossing.
A Lovely Sight in the Spring
Even the stones glisten a welcome, unmarred by excessive lichens. The rich yellow of the marsh marigold bordering the stream is a sight of delight in the spring. So are the bluebells, the trailing arbutus, and the golden yellow of the dogtooth violet.
It’s a riot of color all spring. The bellworth in May, then the May apples that grow in a 10′ foot circle, and the wood lily blooms. Dutchman’s breeches with their fern-like leaves come in June with the purplish-pink flowers of the wild geranium and the red, white, and variegated trilliums.
But the colors afoot in the spring are merely the heralds of the brilliance in the fall when the yellow, copper, red and purple gold come into the leaves of the trees.
The trail goes on, then veers sharply to the right. Laurel and rhododendron on either side—fragile pinkish white when they bloom in June and July – are surpassed only by the dogwood at the end of the trail. There you stand and pause at the old rail fence. Three Jersey cows graze peacefully in the pasture of the farmer next door.
You turn and wend your way slowly back another trail, as charming as the first, entirely engrossed by this bit of woodland, this three-acre Eden.
It Is Not Necessary for Grove to Be Pretentious
Anyone can do what the doctor has done with a woodlot or a grove of trees. The grove need not be pretentious. It doesn’t require wealth. These are not palatial estates but little oases of trees that shield you from a neighbor’s eye, bringing a bit of seclusion in a constantly pressing world.
The doctor dreamed of how this woodlot should look the day he bought it. He cut his trails. Just inside his barn door hangs a pair of pruning shears. And when the doctor strolls among his trees, he takes it along.
Sometimes there’s a sprout or an overhanging shrub there that he wants to eliminate. He is constantly keeping nature in check and having fun doing it.
Cut Timber With Care
Woodlot cutting must be done with cure and reasonable care. You don’t cut timber as the lumberman would do. The greatest danger is making it a park-like area by opening too much. Hark beetles flock in to harass your trees when you do that, and troubles begin.
Woodlots, to retain their charm, must be enclosed. Like the doctor’s, the opening trail should be barely perceptible.
The trail need not be vast, just wide enough for two to walk comfortably side by side or hand in hand.
The charm comes in the margins, the unexpected vistas which reveal a hidden stream, some towering oak, a mass of wild grapes kept under control, an-occasional stump, and a bed of fern.
It is so easy to cut; and so difficult to put back. An expert will tell you which young growth should be left standing for spring and autumn color. He will know their relationship to older trees that should be left to tower to greater heights. Soil relationship is essential.
Hollies, for example, it is rich and moist. Mountain laurel, azaleas, and rhododendron prefer soil on the acid side. Hemlocks don’t mind wet feet.
Woods should be opened up, too, to attract birdlife. Many a woodlot fallen into disrepair and restored by proper cutting quickly becomes a haven for songbirds, chipmunks, and squirrels.
If you have a little woodland, no matter how small, you can make it an Eden like the doctor did.
44659 by OW Spicer