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Kathryn Dillon

Witherle Words

And the Tree Was Happy

By Kathryn Dillon, Witherle Memorial Library, and Gail Winkler, Castine Garden Club

To say, Castine loves her trees, is an understatement. Castine really, really loves her trees.  Castine’s elms beguile townspeople, visitors, documentary filmmakers, and even Washington Post Magazine readers. They are counted, fed, pruned, and watched. When an old elm dies, the town is saddened. When a young elm is planted, people cheer it on.

The Witherle Woods Preserve is another example of the town’s commitment to trees.  Now under the auspices of Maine Coast Heritage Trust, it offers a long, beautiful walk past rivulets and dells, enjoyed much as it was when George Witherle (the library building’s namesake) was adding to his carriage trails, from which the Preserve was established.

Old apples appear in yards, on undeveloped tracts of land, and near cemeteries and other areas of personal and historical interest.  While the lion’s share of Castine’s trees go individually unnoticed, they comprise a mighty band, deciduous and conifer, which provides shade and habitat.

Scientific innovation and transportation have brought an explosion of plants–once only available in certain climates or grown halfway around the world–to our backyards. We can enjoy raspberries in late fall, roses blooming in December, and celebrated ornamentals originating from the mountains of Japan. These particular species are often hybridized, designed to travel, endure New England’s unique cold, and present in colors which are not the result of natural selection. Tasty or beautiful?  Often. But there is a downside.

These modern wonders are disconnected from the area’s natural community, the intersection between plants and animals that encourages pollination and provides food for the species that live in any one place. We can all enjoy special plants which stand apart from our local ecology, but also must emphasize the planting and success of plants native to our area.

This balance is easier said than done.  How hard is it to plant a tree?  Well, that depends.  Without a clear understanding of trees themselves, how they fit in amongst each other and in the native landscape, trees can fail.  To help us make sense of this all, the Castine Garden Club and Witherle Memorial Library have invited Tim Seabrook and Leslie Cummins, the founders of 5 Star Nursery in Brooklin, and now building a backyard orchard in Blue Hill, to understand tree basics.  They have grafted thousands of trees, planted thousands more, and know how different species relate to one another and the animals they provide for.

A Consideration of Trees will take place on Wednesday, May 18 at 11 am at the library.  Tim will demonstrate how a tree graft happens, and then open the floor to questions and discussion.  Light refreshments will be served.

In the meantime, stop by the library and check out its many books on native trees and shrubs, the Maine Natural History Observatory’s series on Maine flora and fauna, six years of Wild Seed publications, and gardening books in the Friends of Witherle’s book sale.  You can apply all this newfound information to your own backyard.

And you’ll need plants!  Never fear, the Castine Garden Club is holding a plant sale on Saturday, May 28 from 10 am to Noon at Emerson Hall. Perfect timing.

On Exhibit in the A/V Room: Lepidoptera

Lepidopterology is a branch of entomology concerning the scientific study of moths and the three superfamilies of butterflies. From the collection of Jeff Ackerman. Included in the display are new butterfly and moth books for adults and children.