For more than 80 years, a pair of English Elms have graced the front lawn of the Visitor’s Center at Bloedel Reserve. The stately trees are estimated to be over one-hundred feet tall and stand watch over the Bloedel’s former residence. Their vibrant yellow leaves blanket the lawn in the fall, and people enjoy posing for pictures against their thick trunks. There is even a photo from the 1980s of Mr. and Mrs. Bloedel using the trees as a backdrop.
But unfortunately, the time has come for the trees to be removed. According to tree specialist Katy Bigelow, “The life of the northernmost tree has quickly come to an end.”
Both visitors and the Visitor’s Center are at risk of limbs falling, or the tree snapping. And the risks far outweigh trying to save the tree.
“Even if we did a lot of work, and did all we could do, there is no guarantee that the tree would survive,” Bigelow said.
Over the years, extensive work has been done to keep the trees healthy and strong. Both trees are cabled to support their branches, and the southernmost tree has three 7/8-inch- diameter, three-foot-long bolts drilled through its trunk after a 2004 storm split the tree. Both trees suffer from wood decay and are dropping branches. Horticulturists have used air spades to aerate the soil, and helpful mycirrhizai fungi were inserted in the roots. Appropriate pruning of the trees has been done on schedule.
The windstorm in late September broke the cables and investigation by several arborists and tree pathologists has led the Reserve to the decision to remove the trees.
“It’s a complex issue and not an easy decision,” said Joe Piecuch, Director of Grounds and Facilities at the Reserve. “But visitor’s safety is the number one priority.”
While the southernmost tree is in slightly better condition than its partner, the expense to maintain the tree has become cost prohibitive. Even though the south Elm could survive for an undetermined number of years, it presents growing safety issues for the public, increased maintenance costs, and design/aesthetic issues that cannot be avoided.
“It’s just such a bummer and a historical loss to Bloedel,” Bigelow said.
“I think we all knew this would happen sooner or later,” said Ed Moydell, Executive Director of Bloedel Reserve. “However, I was really hoping that it would be later than this. Personally, these are two of my favorite trees, and I have many memories attached to them. It is hard to see them go.”
The trees are scheduled to be removed sometime before Thanksgiving. In the meantime, the areas below the trees will be cordoned off for the safety of visitors. The Reserve plans to mill some of the wood from the trees and use the lumber for furniture or other items which will be displayed at the Reserve.
For now, the plan is to let the ground heal while the Buildings and Grounds Committee and Horticulture team decide what should be planted. The loss of the trees is significant and we want to replace their grace and stateliness with something that will honor the Elms’ legacy.