The Rise of The Dead Tree….BWAH AHA HA ha ha ha

Thunbergia alata

This summer, our Japanese maple enjoyed a new life as a support for a Blackeyed Susan vine (Thunbergia alata).

Halloween may be over but there are still some zombies striking a pose out there. One is in my front garden.

Our wind–tossed, sun–scorched Japanese maple (Acer palmatum ’Bloodgood’) finally gave up the ghost this past spring. There’s a smattering of leaves on two or three branches, flapping in the fall breezes, but they’re only serving as small purple hankies for its long wave goodbye. This baby is going, going, gone.

But now it’s got a new life as a plant support. This summer, a vigorous Thunbergia alata twined up its trunk and branches, covering the tree with bright green leaves and orange blooms within a month. I planted the vine in a large plastic pot (you can just make it out to the left of the tree’s trunk in the photo at left) to make it easier to keep the vine well watered and not have to struggle with digging a hole amongst the tree’s roots. I’m really happy with the effect and plan to plant a different blooming vine each year. Which means this Japanese maple may have stopped being a maple but it certainly hasn’t lost our admiration of it.

I think dead trees are beginning to become “a thing” as far as gardening trends go. Old stumps and branches are showing up in garden beds everywhere. And why not. They can look like earth coloured sculptures and, hey, they’re usually free. I love the upside down trees in the extraordinary Glacier Gardens in Alaska. They may have kickstarted the using–dead–trees–in–weird–ways trend by going big. Really big. The top of each large trunk was sunk into the ground so that their splayed roots, rising well above people height created natural frameworks for aerial plantings. But even though these Flower Towers are huge, the idea of turning disaster into beauty can translate in anyone’s garden.

Ramon Gonzalez suggests 7 ways to give new life to dead trees in your backyard on treehugger.com. I love Idea #6 about using trunks for plant containers, although the example he uses for Idea #1, involving a whole urban grove of dead trees, is pretty awesome.

For those who don’t want to wait for anything to die, there are inspirations for that, too. In the extreme is Claude Cormier, an artist/sculptor/architect/designer who covered every square inch of a living tree with bright blue balls. Not sure if the tree actually survived this transformation but the effect is eyebrow–raising to be sure.

If all your trees are doing just fine, you may still have a dead one on your hands the day after Christmas. If that’s the case, check out Don’t Trash That Tree on the American Humane Society’s website, for ideas that include turning an old Christmas tree into habitats for birds and fish (!) or redecorating it with edible trimmings so that your backyard wildlife can get in on the fun.

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