Not all fallen trees must be replaced — that’s the first choice. A disappearance might offer the chance to grow sunny perennials or carve out a vegetable garden.
In this instance, a new tree is needed, to frame a view and to add green architecture to a huge void. Of course, I want it as well for its interest and beauty.
Picking a tree is easy; picking the right tree is far more difficult, especially if you want to plant a conifer, as I do. Unless you live in the higher elevations north and west of Washington, this area is tough on conifers. Many of them aren’t equipped for our infernal summers, which seem to be getting worse.
So strike off the list Douglas fir, concolor fir, Fraser fir, Colorado blue spruce, the larch, the golden larch, Austrian pine — the list expands in every direction.
Now that the Leyland cypress has been discredited for its size and vulgarity, the fast-growing screening conifer of choice has become the Green Giant arborvitae. This isn’t a bad tree — it holds up in winter storms and its foliage is not offensive — but there are other, more handsome choices.
Green Giant is one I gladly dismiss, although others that I have cast off are harder to let go. I like conifers that are deciduous; they tend to have muscular red-brown bark and stunning fall color, which is why it is a shame the golden larch is so unhappy south of the Mason-Dixon line. The dawn redwood is a bigger tree, quite at home here, and its fall show this year was superb, the color of fresh copper. If you race to the National Arboretum’s conifer collection, you might see the last of the show in the groves of mature dawn redwoods. Check out one of several cultivated varieties, including Waasland, a compact and upright variety better suited to smaller gardens.
But I have dawn redwoods at home, and the site in question is too dry for this moisture-loving conifer and its native look-alike, the bald cypress. The cryptomeria would be a great choice, tall, green and fine-textured, but I have three already.
The China fir is a novel conifer whose coarse, spiky needles suggest something truly primeval — such as those of the monkey puzzle tree — but it is hard to find and too narrow for my needs.
In my conifer quest, I visited Tom Moseley, who has spent more than three decades raising conifers at his nursery west of Potomac, Maryland Gardens Tree and Shrub Farm.
He is a fan of Norway spruces (which have been around since Colonial days — perhaps they have earned their naturalization by now) but I think they suffer from overuse, get bigger than most people anticipate and can look ragged in old age.
Firs generally don’t work in Washington, but Moseley is a big fan of the Nordmann fir, which is most commonly used as a cut Christmas tree in these parts. His youngish specimens look happy, and to me seem so much classier than the Norway spruce. The needles are stouter and showier, and display their silver-gray undersides to great effect. But I’m not sure I’d want to risk it, given the trajectory of our climate.