Thursday, August 19, 2010

Goodbye, Nicholai

The 1977 printing of the Sunset Western Garden Book has this to say about eucalyptus:

No pests. In Australia, you seldom find a eucalyptus leaf unchewed by insects; here, by contrast, you almost never find one insect-chewed. Importing has been entirely by seed; no natural pests have been imported by way of living plants. There are no foliage-attacking diseases of eucalypts here.

Indeed, one of the reasons there are so many eucalyptus in California is because they were so easy to grow, so beautiful, so varied. At my previous house, and this one, my front yard planting had as its focus the feathery, graceful, tall Eucalyptus nicholii: willow-leaf eucalyptus.

I whispered to this tree when I planted it, "your job is grow fast and tall and hide that ugly street light from me." (Right by the sidewalk in front of the house was an orange-tinted street light -- unsightly by day and glaringly bright at night. Ugh.)

And so it did. In only a few years, Nicholai soared above the street light, with grace and loveliness shading the yard, for peaceful darkness at night, and cutting the heat of the late afternoon sun.

Sitting in the front yard was like sitting on the edge of a rich forest, thanks to the nicholii and little brother tree Dwarf Blue Gum. Complete privacy from the street, even from the sidewalk a few feet away. On the hottest summer days, we'd sit under the tree with a mister spraying us, and be comfortable and content, surrounded by beauty.

Bad things happen even to good trees.

I'm not sure when, but a bug from Australia arrived in California: the eucalyptus psyllid. The infestation began as a few white dots on some leaves of Nicholai; when we found out what it was, we did some oil spray, which helped the lower branches we could reach. Alas, most of the tree was higher than we could spray, and the foliage began to really weaken, with great leaf fall sprinkling the lawn.

Last month, seeing the disgusting waxy exudate from the psyllids sprinkling the lawn, the front porch, the outdoor furniture, the sidewalk, our neighbor's lawn and driveway and cars, we knew that we had a lost cause on our hands. We could have tried systemic poison, but the amount of chemicals needed would be massive, and we'd have to trash the front vegetable garden, the blueberries, and forget ever planting edible stuff in the front yard, because the psyllids are never going to give up. Bugs don't quit. Moreover, runoff from our yard (and all the yards in this neighborhood) goes right into the river. The fish -- those left -- don't need more pesticides.

We love our trees. They don't talk, or beg at the table, but they protect us from the sun and the wind. They soothe our eyes with beauty, and share our home. Sometimes they dump stuff on the neighbor's yard, but we don't mind cleaning up after them.

It was a hard decision to have the nicholii cut down. We'd thought to wait until Fall, but economic times are tough right now for tree services, so we were able to get a really fine price ... for the job to be done today.

Maybe it was best to be done with it quickly, I don't know. The tree-cutters were most efficient, and very careful of the other plants in the yard. We said goodbye to the tree before the tree service arrived, and if that sounds dumb, so be it. I've been leaking tears all day over the tree that I planted and nurtured and admired through all the weather of eleven years.

My tree is gone. The yard, without Nicholai in it, seems strangely small. The dwarf blue gum (which is not affected by the psyllids) will fill in quickly; most likely in two years it will be hard to tell there was ever a second tree there.

Still, I won't forget it.


Cheryl said...

Aw, that's too bad.

Tweetywill said...

I have been ridiculed for feeling bad about cutting down a tree. I can fully understand your feelings about Nicolai's demise.