Thursday, July 5, 2012

My Big Blue Spruce

One recent Sunday, I sat in my back garden enjoying the peace of the sheltering trees and bushes and the view of birds and flowers.  Trucks on the highway can still be heard, but there’s a buffer zone, and a swooshy sound from the speeding vehicles passes between the buildings, keeping it far away.

Two squirrels sit calmly on one branch, while another goes up the juniper trunk.  It chases a fourth.  A red-breasted robin flaps in the birdbath and sings.  A bee lights on the pansies in the pot then swings by the multi-colored hydrangea.  Salmon-colored flowers bloom with the nasturtium leaves and zucchini flowers burst from beneath the broad leaves.

When I first moved here 20-odd years ago, it was February, cold and snowy.  The front door was reached by four steps, and the patchy lawn between it and the street was empty.  That first Christmas, I decided I’d have a live Christmas tree and plant it near the stoop.  I prepared ahead – Aunt Lois told me a trick my grandfather had taught her.  Dig the hole before frost, big enough to fit a rootball and more.  Add a little water to the bottom of the hole, then cover it with black plastic (since my grandfather was born in the 19th century, I’m guessing he said something like burlap, not plastic), then refill the plastic-covered hole with a mix of the original soil and a new topsoil mixed with peat moss.  Had this occurred 10 years later than it did, I’d have documented it with my digital camera; but alas, I had no such instrument back then. Only my memory serves.  For Christmas, I bought a four-foot tall blue spruce and kept it inside, its rootball in a large bucket, for the season.  After Christmas, and after some snow melted, I planted it out front, and much to everyone’s surprise, it took.  Over the years, it grew tall and wide and is now taller than the two-story building I live in.
Big Blue in January 2012 -- yes, ten minutes of snow melted ten minutes later.

Beyond its beauty, Big Blue (as I called it) offered a habitat to birds and shelter to me as well.  Its boughs covered part of my bedroom window, so people walking along the street couldn’t just see in – they’d have to get past the scratchy needles to do that.  More, Big Blue sheltered my front stoop, allowing packages to be delivered in safety without my taking off work to receive them.  I could tell any delivery service just to leave it on the stoop, Big Blue protects it all. 

Blue has been a part of my daily life for many years, a welcome home sign, and the landmark that my friends and family could use to differentiate my building from the others along my street.  Some weekends are chock-a-block full and busy, but I noticed a weed tree was growing strong between Blue and the building, so I resolved that I’d go in and cut that away the coming weekend.

That Tuesday, I came home in early dusk.  The black-eyed susans that had been clinging to the corner of the building were gone.  As were the hostas near the stoop.  As were Blue’s branches from the ground to six feet above.  My beautiful blue spruce had been butchered, the ground around it cleared of all perennials.  It was appalling.  Blue had been violently shaved, and I couldn’t help thinking of Eleanor Parker’s desperate whispered lines in the 1950 movie, Caged, after the other inmates had hacked her hair off:  “It’ll grow back.  It’ll grow back.”  The dirt around Blue was naked and lifeless, no longer covered by Blue’s protective needles.  My stoop and window were naked. 
twilight shock

One of the first things I ever transplanted was a hosta.  It’s still alive, out back.  Hostas are therefore, to me, almost impossible to kill, since I had no skill in transplanting.  Yet the hostas at the foot of my tree were gone.

The management office of the co-op closes at 5, but I wrote an email that evening complaining bitterly of the destructive act.  Home on Wednesday, I awaited a response.  The site manager and a minion came around with a camera.  I charged outside asking if they’d done it.  I was not calm.  They were.  After a few minutes she (the site manager) claimed it had been chopped up due to a security issue – the alleged security guard had allegedly seen a kid smoking pot behind my tree.  Obviously he was not well hidden, since the security guards never get out of their golf carts.  Poor kid, if he’d thought about it, there are plenty of places the security guards never notice where he could have smoked in peace.

Not that I believe that story.  If there had been a security issue and they didn’t inform me of it, surely that would be negligence.  If I was in danger because of my tree, surely they would have been concerned enough to send an email (they have two of my email addresses), a phone call (they have my numbers), or, easier still, put a note through the mail slot in my door, the way Metro Management generally communicates with the residents.  I received no warning of danger and no notification that either I should prune my tree or they would. 

What some incompetent fool with a power tool did to my tree was not pruning.  Metro Management does not hire people with any knowledge – the same unskilled labor paints porticoes and tromps through gardens with leaf blowers, and wreaks havoc on innocent plants with power saws. 


I wrote to every member of the Board of Directors of the co-op as well.  I have yet to receive a response.  To say nothing is to condone what was done.  It could have been a mistake, apologized for, and offers of new annuals to cover the naked soil could have been made.  But that didn’t happen.  In the weeks since, I’ve walked around Parkway Village, taking pleasure in people’s gardens and noting every tree or bush that could be seen as a security issue.  I won’t tell, though.  Metro Management might chop them down.

So, the upshot is this:  DO NOT EVER BUY INTO A CO-OP IN NEW YORK.  You’ll have no rights, merely responsibilities.  You will not be a homeowner.  Unskilled and ignorant laborers can destroy any landscaping you may choose to do with impunity.  Especially if the co-op board is foolhardy enough to hire Metro Management.

~ Molly Matera, signing off to go plant some impatiens around my poor tree, and a new hydrangea under my bare window.


  1. Oh I'm so sorry. That's just awful. It's amazing just how stupid and insensitive people are. Give 'em hell Harriet!

  2. Sorry DJ, it's still a beautiful tree, but the privacy issue is're not the right climate for a Prickly Pear cactus, but maybe a strategically place Holly bush would discourage further meddling

  3. Such a shame. Sorry this wound is still so raw. Hope this was cathardic for you and will help you heal. Fred and I are so glad to be out of that place.

    Hugs, Tom

  4. Thank you friends. A neighbor asked if I'd cut it back or if management had -- even said he liked the more "open" feel of it. But he recognized that my privacy has been compromised. Cactus...interesting, if impractical for my zone! Instead of using my vacation days at a beach like a sane person, I've been trying to cover the naked soil, if just a little.