I’m a little embarrassed to admit this, but I haven’t always liked my oak trees. In fact, there was a time when I wanted to chop them all down. I live and garden on a semi-wooded acre in southwestern Connecticut that is home to 19 oak trees. Most are at least 40’ tall and while they dot my entire landscape, the majority of them seem to line the eastern and northern boundaries of my property.
For the first few years we lived here, I really didn’t even notice all the oak trees. As a first-time homeowner and a new mom, my attention was focused elsewhere. I was grateful we had lots of large trees on our property but I never really paid much attention to any of the trees. I was much more interested in the plants that grew at eye level.
But as my interest in gardening started to bud, I took notice of the oak trees. Frankly, I considered them a nuisance. Mainly because of all the acorns. During mast years, walking on the ground near the oaks trees was like navigating a floor slick with marbles. Not to mention the annoying ping, ping, ping of acorns hitting the roof. Or the hundreds and hundreds of little sprouting acorns found in every bed, border, nook and cranny of the garden. And when I found out that deer, my garden nemesis, eat acorns, I really wanted to get rid of each and every one of my oak trees.
And then something happened. As I grew and matured as a gardener, I began to realize that my garden was more than just a collection of pretty plants. It was home to a plethora of insects, birds and mammals. I could either continue gardening the way I had been, without any real regard for them, or I could start to welcome them into my garden and my garden could become a safe haven for them. A habitat gardener was born.
That’s when I started to appreciate all my oak trees. Of course the discovery that we had two oaks trees that were the perfect distance apart to support a hammock only added to my growing sense of acknowledgement that perhaps I had been wrong about these trees. After reading Bringing Nature Home by Douglas Tallamy, I finally understood how fortunate I was to have all those oak trees in my garden. According to Tallamy, ‘oaks are the quintessential wildlife plants: no other genus supports more species of Lepidoptera, thus providing more types of bird food, than the mighty oak’. Lucky me, I have no less than 19 of them growing in my very own wildlife garden!
My oak trees (I know it may not be PC to call them ‘mine’ and I imagine some readers will call me out on it but I lovingly consider them ‘mine’ because I protect and care for them) have become the symbol of my growing awareness of just how important my garden is to the larger ecosystem. The acorns are the most visible sign that I see to remind me of how critical those oak trees are to all the wildlife that my garden supports, from tiny little insects right up to the deer.
Now when I find acorns secreted away in the shed by the growing number of squirrels and chipmunks that make my garden their home, I simply smile and leave them alone just in case their owner comes back looking for them. I also leave many of the sprouting acorns alone so that Mother Nature can do her thing with them. And when acorns rain down on the roof during a summer storm, (OK, I still find that sound annoying), at least I know many of the animals in my garden will find a feast the next morning.
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