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Sans trees, city loses its panache

June 06, 2002|by TIM ROWLAND

As a trained journalist and keen observer, I couldn't help becoming aware that something was different as I drove through downtown Hagerstown last week.

I don't know exactly what it was that raised my antenna. Maybe it was the four-foot stumps sticking out of the ground or that all the city's empty storefronts were now proudly showing themselves in a good strong light.

I thought about it all day and finally it hit me: All those big beautiful trees were missing. It was so obvious that I truly believe that given a few months and a new computer system, even the FBI and CIA would have figured it out.

I swear, I've never seen a town so schitzo about its shrubbery than this one. It re-pots more often than the Home and Garden Network.

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I was kind of sad, because for two weeks every spring when the pear trees were in bloom, Hagerstown is, believe it or not, absolutely stunning. The light, fluffy flowers made the city streets appear to glow.

No wonder they had to come down. Wouldn't want the city to seem too attractive - someone might actually want to move in.

Unfortunately, aside from their two-week showcase, the trees had some issues the other 50 weeks of the year. First, they were considered to be "susceptible to storm damage." So the next time a tornado sauntered up Washington Street, we could have looked like an Oklahoma trailer park, limbs all over the place.

In addition, the trees aided and abetted the crow population, they dropped fruit and were messy and they smelled. Other than that they were solid tree citizens - all except the solid part, I guess.

Through a miserable chance of timing, however, the estimated 432,000 board feet of lumber was removed right before the city's hallmark event, the Western Maryland Blues Fest. To anyone coming downtown to hear the music, it looked like the city had just been run over by termites.

The city, in its typically clear fashion, said that while it approved the project, it didn't approve the project. That decision fell under the jurisdiction of the agency that holds authority in the situation (and I love this one), the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

Maybe it's me, but when I think of the Maryland DNR, I think of hunting and fishing, parks and trails. I do not think of East Franklin Street right in the heart of a relatively big city.

I mean, who are we to call next time we need a pothole filled, the Sierra Club?

Anyway, the matter is settled and I suppose it's for the best. After all, every city in the country has Bradford pears. They make a sidewalk look so pedestrian.

They will be replaced with American hornbeams which, even at being the skilled botanist that I am, I had never heard of. Hornbeams. Sounds like a style of eyeglasses.

Then I did a little research (I know, I'm scared, too) and discovered that hornbeams can be made into something called a "pleached tree." I thought "Oh boy, I love pleaches, especially pleach ice cream."

But that wasn't it. Pleached trees, according to Marty Hair, garden writer for the Detroit Free Press, are ones that "have straight lower trunks with upper branches bent horizontally so they weave together like a giant aerial basket."

Oh goodie. Call it the Longaberger look. These pleached tree hedges are popular in Italy, England and France. So instead of a regular old downtown Hagerstown, we can look forward to Versailles.

A few reflecting pools and some hedges and we'll be all done. A perfect English garden. I don't know that it will improve the driving experience, but if you want to have a steeplechase, you'll be all set.

Sounds neat. I hope they replace the "No left turn on red" signs with ones that say "Release the hounds."

A pleachy idea, indeed.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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