Thursday, May 31, 2007

Aiken has a great variety of trees and even greater variety of people

According to an interview on ETV’s Road Show, Aiken has such a variety of trees that it has been declared an arboretum. These trees not only give Aikenites something different, or even exotic, to see, but also give them the opportunity to watch the Memorial Day parade in the shade.

Aiken has, within a four-mile radius of downtown, one of the best tree collections in the southern United States. Twenty-five years ago, when Robert and Julia Mackintosh and Bob McCartney first established Woodlanders Nursery on the grounds of an old house of Colleton Avenue, they began planting new and unusual trees on some of the nearby parkways. A few years later, with a $10,000 grant from the South Carolina Forestry Commission and a matching grant from the city, they worked with the Aiken Parks Department to establish Aiken’s citywide Arboretum project.

The grant paid for a dedicated computer and an intern who labeled trees at Hopeland Gardens, Rye Patch, Odell Weeks, and the Arboretum Trail. The Arboretum trail begins at a slash pine beside the library on Colleton Avenue, where there’s a box containing a brochure that lists the names of and information about each tree. It continues for seven blocks to Marion Street. At Marion the trail turns back, winding through the wide parkways and crossing over itself until it ends at a Strawberry Tree on Park Avenue.

There are eleven species of oak on the trail, five different pines, ordinary trees such as Dogwood, Sweet Gum and Crape Myrtle, Eastern Red Cedar, valued for its wood used in cabinetwork and cedar chests, and the graceful Deodor Cedar. There are several Magnolias. The Saucer Magnolia sends out extravagant blooms on bare stems every spring, making us wish we’d made room for it in our patch of garden, and no southern arboretum trail would be complete without a Southern Magnolia.

There are a few hollies, a Pecan and a Redbud along the way, as well as Osage Orange and Honey Locust. There’s no Palmetto Tree, but there is the slightly hardier Windmill Palm.

A total of 48 trees are listed in the walk brochure, but Bob has continued to plant trees around town anywhere he can find the space and a reasonable belief that the trees will be cared for.

City horticulturist, Tom Rapp, has “branched out” in his choices of trees for Aiken’s public places, too. Chinese Pistacia trees, relatives of the edible pistacio nut tree, are planted in the Laurens Street Parkway. They produce attractive hanging blossoms in the summer and nice fall color.

Last fall, Tom removed the Bradford Pears near the corner of Laurens Street and Park Avenue and replaced them with unusual Tung Oil trees. After a rough spring, the trees are beginning to leaf out and should add yet another bit of interest to our treescape.

Not far from the end of the arboretum walk, beneath the shade of a crape myrtle tree, we witnessed a great Memorial Day parade. We honored those who served and those who fell. Included were veterans from World War II, Korea, Viet Nam, Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom and other actions. Some vets were undecorated, some highly decorated and one was a Medal of Honor recipient. We don’t all agree on the wisdom of the wars, but we honored all the veterans with cheering and applause.

The crowd watching, as well as the crowd of participants, included people from different backgrounds and different age groups. There were many native to our town, and people, like us, who have lived here thirty years and feel like natives. There were newcomers, too, who must have felt right at home.

Where else could one band play “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” receive enthusiastic acknowledgement, followed by Confederate Re-enactors marching to “Dixie”? And no one seemed to catch even a hint of irony. Good for us. There’s room for everyone here in Aiken.
I’ll bet there are more kinds of people in Aiken than there are varieties of trees here.