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The Oak Tree's Revenge

Treat an oak tree with respect or it will punish you.

I belong to The Ridge and Valley Tellers—a story-telling guild in Rome, Georgia. Each year our group hosts “The Big Fibbers” which is a storytelling expo featuring professional storytellers and a contest for amateurs like—ME.This year I decided that I would win the contest.And, then things changed and the event was cancelled.So, I decided to write the story and put it on my Johntheplantman blog. I mean, the story is plant-related. So, here it is—enjoy.

1867

The boy lived with his Paw Paw because his Pa had gone to the war and never returned. He and Paw Pawstood outside their modest, board and batten home on the farm.The boy said, “Paw Paw, I want to plant a tree. When is a good time to do that?”Paw Paw said, “Well, son, they say that the best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago and the next best time is today.”The boy jumped up and down. “Oh, boy, let’s plant one.”Paw Paw got a shovel from the barn and handed it to the boy who walked behind, holding the shovel over his shoulder like a rifle.They walked out to the woods and looked at several saplings. Paw Paw put his hand on one and said, “This here’s a good one, hit’s a white oak tree and hit will live for a long time.”Paw Paw showed the boy how to dig up the sapling carefully. He said, “be careful, now ‘cause a oak tree willpunish you if you ain’t careful and kind to it.”

They took the tree home and chose a spot to the left side of the front porch which faced south. “This way, said Paw Paw, the tree will shade the house in the summer and make it cool. Then in the winter, the tree willdrop its leaves and let the sun in to warm the house. Oak trees are kind and will take care of you if you show them a bit of respect.”he boy went to the well and hauled several buckets of water. “I’ll keep it watered, Paw Paw.”

1927

The boy had inherited the farm and house. He had raised his family there and now he was Paw Paw  to his own grandson. The farm was close to town and the price of cotton was way down, so when some developers offered to purchase the farm, Paw Paw took them up on it. But he made some terms:

`1. One of the streets would run in front of the farm house and it would be named “Oakwood Street in honor of the beautiful 60 year-old tree.

2. Paw Paw would take some of the money from the sale and order him a “ready to build Craftsman House” from Sears and Roebucks.

3. The carpenters who worked for the developer would demolish the farm house and erect the Craftsman house.

4. No one would disturb or damage the tree in any manner.

One day, the new grandson was with Paw Paw while he was watching the construction men. He stood next to the stately oak tree and yelled at anyone who looked as if they would disturb it.The boy said, “Paw Paw, why do you care so much about that there old tree?”Paw Paw replied, “Boy, that there is a white oak tree. Me and my Paw Paw planted it sixty years ago. You got to take care of a oak tree or it will punish you.”That’s silly, Paw Paw, how can a tree punish you?” the boy aske“Hell, boy, I don’t know, that’s just what my Paw Paw told me when I was ten.”

1957

Paw Paw had lived to be 100 years old. That was all he had in him. His dying words to his grandson were, “Boy, I done left you the house. Take care of the oak tree.” And then he passed on.But the grandson needed money and he sold the house to a woman who was kind of pretty except that the corners of her mouth always turned down. At the sales closing, the grandson said, “My Paw Paw said to treat that oak tree good or it would punish you.” The lady said, “What kind of poppycock is that?”

1967

The lady’s mouth turned down even more. Every time she passed by that tree she said, “I hate that tree. It keeps the sun off my flower bed in the summer time and I have to rake up a ton of leaves in the fall.” One day, a busybody from down the street asked, “ain’t you ‘fraid that tree’s gonna fall on yore house?”And that was all it took. She called a tree guy.“Lady,” said the tree guy, “That there tree ain’t gonna fall on your house. It’s gonna be there long after you’re gone.”

She said, “No it ain’t. I want you to cut it down.”The tree guy was an honest man. He said, “Ma’am, I just cain’t bring myself to cut down that beautiful tree.” And he went away. As he was getting in his truck he looked down and found a hundred-dollar bill that the wind had blown up.

So the lady with the turn down mouth called Bubba and Leroy’s tree service. Bubba made her a reasonable price and “garnteed” that he would haul off the wood. He didn’t tell the lady that he could get premium top dollar for the trunk of the tree at the sawmill and that he could get lots of truckloads of farwood that he could sell for forty dollars a load.

So Bubba and Leroy got them a big old chain saw and started cutting on the tree. They cut up the large limbs into farwood lengths and took them to Leroy’s house. It took them a long time to cut the trunk up and the sawmill guy sent a truck with a lift on it to haul the trunk away. The sawmill guy was going to make him a bunch of money.

There were still plenty of limbs to cut up but when Leroy was cutting on a big one, his chain saw stuck and the limb flipped around and hit him in the head. Leroy suffered brain damage and died two days later.

Now Bubba finished the job and he was sorry about Leroy, but he reckoned that it was ok and that Leroy would want him to keep all of the money for himself. But he had forgotten one thing.

The lady with the turn down mouth said, “That looks good, Bubba, but I did tell you that I want the stump ground up. I don’t want to be looking at that stump. I hated that tree and I hate that stump. Get it gone.

Bubba didn’t care, he was making good money anyhow, so he went and got his friend Sammy who had a stump grinder. Sammy said that it was a way big stump but he would take on the job if Bubba would help him. Grinding out that stump was a slow process. At one point, the stump grinder got stuck in the wood and Bubba ran over and kicked it. Bubba slipped and the stump grinder cut off his leg.They sewed Bubba up at the hospital but he was never “right” again and he died an early death.

The stump took a while longer after Bubba’s accident and the lady with the turn down mouth decided that she liked Sammy. While the lady’s husband was gone to work, the lady and Sammy got to kissin’ on each other and all sorts of things in the back room but her husband had his suspicions and he came home with his pistol. He kicked open the door and shot his wife. Sammy was crawling out the back window when the husband shot him. Then the husband shothimself.

The husband died, the woman was wounded but she lived through it and Sammy had been shot in the backbone and was paralyzed from the waist down for the rest of his life.

One day, about a year later, the lady with the turn down mouth was looking at the remains of the stump. There was a beautiful red and yellow lichen growing on it. She picked it up and smelled it. The powder on top of the lichen went into her lungs and caused her to have fungal pneumonia and she later died. Sammy lived on but he wasn’t ever happy again.

After the lady died, the house had been sold to a very nice and happy young couple who raised two children and then became grandparents. The grandchildren called the man “Paw Paw.”

2017

The boy and the old man stood out in the yard. The boy pointed to the corner of the porch and asked, “Paw Paw, why is there a great big low place ovr there?”

Paw Paw replied, “Well, that there’s what they call a ‘stump hole.’ It’s where there was a tree that died or got cut down. After many years the tree stump and roots rot and it makes a hole. I keep meaning to do something about it.”

The boy said, “Paw Paw, why don’t we plant another tree over there?”

“That’s a great idea,” said Paw Paw. “And since this is on Oakwood Street, we can plant a white oak tree.”

He paused and looked down at the smiling boy, “but you’ll have to take care of it because…

The end for now.

Featured

Internet launch–“The Basics Of Pruning” by John Schulz and Dekie Hicks

The Basics of Pruning

By John Schulz and Dekie Hicks

John and dekie doing field research.
John and Dekie have worked together on several writing projects. The Basics of Pruning is their latest and most practical.

The Basics of Pruning is the product of a 5-year collaboration between John Schulz and Dekie Hicks. John has more than 40 years of experience in landscape maintenance and got his wife Dekie started on pruning plants for pleasure. In addition, it is Dekie who has the expertise in book design.

pruning for shape, strength--and fun.
Dekie is constantly called on to give plant shaping lessons when she goes to visit friends. She doesn’t mind because she enjoys it.

The book presents concepts for successful pruning projects.

“I didn’t want the book to be just a list of plants with little pictures,” said Schulz. “That would become boring quickly. Instead, I wanted to develop the concepts of what happens to a plant when it’s pruned. I wanted to present information that would apply to many different plant species. When we first got the ability to produce a full color, well-illustrated book at an affordable price, we just had to do the pruning book.”

Order Now–Free Shipping for a Limited Time. (continental U.S.)Want an Autograph?–email your instructions to Wheredepony@gmail.com

The Basics Of Pruning (8.5x9 inches, 132 pages, full color paperback. Wheredepony Press

The Basics of Pruning

A well-illustrated and easy-to-understand guide to pruning ornamental plants.

$19.95

The idea of writing a pruning book was an accident. In 2008, John was finishing up the book Requiem for a Redneck. Other authors encouraged him to start a blog. He worked hard developing a topic and finally came up with the idea of “Johntheplantman.com” in which he would answer questions about gardening.

The blog was launched in 2009 and the first article was titled “The Basics of Pruning.” John used pictures of a jade plant to show what happens when you prune a plant.

The book starts with logical and easy to follow information that leads the reader to proficiency,
The book starts with logical and easy to follow information that leads the reader to proficiency,

This article became popular. Over the years, as the site gathered more than 200 articles, the stats showed a steady interest in that first article. This let us know that the interest in pruning was world-wide. “I also spend a lot of time answering gardening questions. Everywhere I go, it seems people ask me something about their yard and the plants and trees in it. So Dekie and I knew that interest in this topic was widespread.”

Follow directions in Chapter 6 of The Basics of Pruning to turn an inexpensive plant into a beautiful bonsai
Chapter 6 offers a step by step guide to turning a juniper into a nice bonsai–start to finish. Bonsai is the ultimate pruning endeavor

The Basics of Pruning is easy to read and the instructions and concepts are illustrated with lots of full-color photographs, making it an excellent field guide.

You will learn how to shape plants, why the plants respond as they do, and when to prune to get maximum effect. This is a good field guide for hobbyists and landscapers. There is a chapter on making your own bonsai plant. It is also an attention-getting coffee table book. Want it personally autographed? Send your request to Wheredepony@gmail.com

To get beautiful, compact azaleas, they must be trimmed at just the right time of year. Find out when
The book not only tells you when to prune your blooming plants, it tells you why–so you can apply this knowledge to other species.

Pruning plants can be boring, routine yard maintenance: “Just cut them suckers back!” OR, plant shaping may be viewed as an art form, an enjoyable pastime, or an avocation, with the end result being plants that are beautiful, interesting sculptures. This book introduces you to the concepts behind pruning many common plants and trees, provides plenty of examples and lots of large color photographs, and gives you ideas to experiment with. Be careful, though! Pruning may become addictive.

Pruning is a meditative art form that will help you to relax and enjoy being with yourself
The table of contents gives you an idea of the depth of this study. What you learn in this book can apply to many other applications.

As an introductory offer for our internet launch of “The Basics of Printing” for a limited time,—Free Shipping and a free copy of our brochure “The Number One Question I Get Asked About Bonsai is, How Do I Keep it live?” (free shipping continental U.S.)

The Basics Of Pruning (8.5x9 inches, 132 pages, full color paperback. Wheredepony Press

The Basics of Pruning

A well-illustrated and easy-to-understand guide to pruning ornamental plants.

$19.95

The most common question people ask about a bonsai is “How do I keep it alive? This brochure is a good guide that will also help you with other plants.

Featured

An Ugly Dwarf Boxwood Turns Into A Beautiful Small Bonsai Garden

My friend said, “Here, John, I found this plant in the reject pile and thought of you.”I knew what he was saying. He wasn’t calling me a reject, he had a gift for me.In my landscaping endeavors, I use a lot of plants.But, I need high quality plants, so I go to a couple of very good wholesale growers.

This time, though, my friend gave me a plant that was ugly and damaged; he wouldn’t be able to sell it. But he knew that I would know what to do with this ugly little plant. The plant was a dwarf boxwood and a tag identified the variety as “Grace Hendricks Phillips.”  The plant should have been a nice, perfectly round globe, but it had brown leaves, was unkempt, and had an entire side broken out.

Well, I knew the plant was a girl and I knew she was insecure and embarrassed because of her unkempt broken exterior. I said to her,

 “let me look, sweet lady. I think you have a surprise for me.”  And, sure enough, when I looked inside the broken foliage, I saw that we could do a little cosmetic surgery to make her beautiful.

making a bonsai from a broken plant
If you look inside the plant you will be surprised at the intricacy and potential

I asked her, “What do you want to look like when we get through?”And she said, “I’ve always wanted to look like a stately south Georgia water oak.”

“We can do that,” I answered. “We can do that, let me clean you up a bit and get a better look at your potential.” I got my little cutting shears out and patiently cleaned out all of the dead wood. I decided that a couple of limbs didn’t need to be there so I cut them out.

developing the trunk base of a bonsai creation
clean up the dead wood and remove any unwanted limbs.

An old priest at the monastery in Conyers, Georgia, long ago, said, “When pruning a small specimen, you should trim it so that a bird can fly through it.” I hope he meant for me to carry on his concept because he is gone now and I can probably qualify as the old man. I use the bird concept on all of my trees, though. It always looks good. So, I cleaned up the boxwood and as I worked, I began to see the water oak that she so much wanted to emulate.

trimming tips for new bonsai
carefully trim the tips so that the plant can grow out to its potential

I had found the shape inside, and now I needed to give her a “haircut” to finish off her transformation. I trimmed the tips and cleaned out discolored leaves. She was looking good.

–Here’s what she looked like when I finished the makeover.

a view of the side of the plant after pruning shows the tree form.
The preliminary cleaning and pruning has been completed (for now). We can see the shape of a grand live oak inside the miniature boxwood.

I needed a home for her. I didn’t have the money or the inclination to go find a pot to plant her in so I went out to my rock pile. (Did I tell you that I am a rock collector? Are you surprised?). After studying her, I asked, “Would you like to live on a mossy hillside? She smiled and said, “Oh, Yes. That would thrill me.” I started laying out rocks on a piece of flagstone in preparation of being glued in place. (Click here to see instructions for attaching the rocks).

preparing to make a stone bonsai container
The rocks will be glued to the flagstone. follow the link above to find the directions

The next day, after the glue had dried overnight, I studied the orientation of the plant in her new home.

initial planting of a bonsai plant
after the glue has dried overnight, we study the orientation of the plant.

I packed her roots carefully with a high quality potting soil, added moss to hold the soil together while the plant grew in and to make her look really, really good. She received an honored place in the garden.

ugly boxwood transformed into a beautiful bonsai.
The ugly boxwood has been named Daphne (read below) and she is very happy in her new home.

She never did tell me her name though, so I put her on Facebook and asked my friends. One friend, Claudia, knew exactly who she was. “Her name is ‘Daphne,’ after the Greek goddess who was turned into a beautiful laurel bush because she didn’t want to get it on with Apollo. Apollo, as you may know, pulls the sun across the sky with a team of horses. He still loves Daphne.”

 It was a cloudy day when I took Daphne out to the garden, but the moment I set her in place, the clouds opened up and the sun shined right on her.

I looked up and smiled.

—john schulz

Featured

Late January or February—Time to Prune Boxwood and Liriope

I love boxwood. By and large they mind well. I appreciate that trait in a plant, but one does have to respect them. Boxwoods perform best when pruned in the early part of the year. That doesn’t mean that they must be pruned, mind you, but if you plan to prune them now would be the time.

I have been tending to this particular planting for more than twenty years. Last year we didn’t do any pruning—just let the hedge thicken up—but this year it was time for a good manicure. The planting is doing well.

A well-tended boxwood bordered courtyard. Picture taken after pruning on February 7
A well-tended boxwood bordered courtyard. Picture taken after pruning on February 7

Here is another view of this lovely courtyard

A second view of the boxwood-bordered courtyard after pruning.
A second view of the boxwood-bordered courtyard after pruning.

One of the main purposes of pruning the boxwood other than shaping them is to make “holes” to allow light to enter and to help form leaves on the inside of the plant canopy. Without this introduction of light the growth will become weak and droopy. Here you can see inside the plant. In a month or two the new growth will fill in the bare spots and the plant will be happy and healthy.

A second view of the boxwood-bordered courtyard after pruning.
A second view of the boxwood-bordered courtyard after pruning.

If you stand back and look at the completed pruning job, you will notice the holes but they won’t be offensive and will close in rapidly. This makes for a healthy plant.

Recently pruned boxwood showing "holes" to provide light for the inside growth
Recently pruned boxwood showing “holes” to provide light for the inside growth

While we are on the job and have the tools at hand, it is time to prune the hydrangeas. Click here for a previous article on pruning hydrangeas.

Hydrangea pruned first part of February
`Hydrangea pruned first part of February

Mondo grass (ophiopogon japonicus) and Liriope (in the south we refer to it as “monkey grass) enjoy a cutting back this time of year. As with the boxwoods, this allows light in to promote new growth. Here is an uncut mondo grass clump.

mondo grass (ophiopogon) winter growth unpruned
mondo grass (ophiopogon) winter growth unpruned

We have found that even though it makes a mess, a good weed eater is the best way to cut the mondo grass. I like to leave maybe two or three inches of the old growth sticking up. The same goes with liriope pictured below.

Liriope (aka 'monkey grass') cut back in February
Liriope (aka ‘monkey grass’) cut back in February

The job is done and everything looks good—but not as good as it will look by the end of March.

Boxwood topiary with mondo grass border pruned around the first of February
Boxwood topiary with mondo grass border pruned around the first of February

For lots of  other johntheplantman articles on pruning click here.

As usual, I would just love for you to go to Amazon and purchase the ebook edition of my wonderful book, Requiem for a Redneck to go on your Kindle. I have also noticed that Amazon now has a free Kindle app for iphones and tablets. Is that cool or what?

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