Farewell Noble Fir

Abies procera glauca – a handsome tree in the wrong place

Farewell Blue Noble Fir. The Abies procera glauca is no more. This was not a decision we reached lightly. The tree was almost as old as our house, planted in the early 1950s. It started life here as a pleasingly pyramidal tree in the rockery but when it soon showed that it was not going to remain suitably compact, Felix moved it to a new location beside the driveway. It was placed so it did not block any sun from the house, though it did cast shade over the washing line. And it grew and grew.

Abies procera cones – several barrow loads fell every year

Abies procera is native to USA, particularly north west California and Oregon and it can grow to 70 metres high, some recorded even at 90m. I do not think Felix checked its potential height when he planted it or he would have put it down in the park. In its 65 years here, it reached maybe 25 metres and it was not stopping growing. Mark began to express anxiety about it several years ago. It took me a while to come around to the idea of removing such a handsome specimen. As it grew taller, its spread also increased and Mark was getting worried that the enormous cones – up to 20cm in size – would soon start falling on our fragile roof tiles. They would crack every tile they hit. We have never had either person or vehicle hit by a falling cone but that is more by good luck than good management, given its prime location.

Oh look! There it is in the rockery in the 1960s before being moved further (but not far enough) from the house

More worryingly, the weight of the tree was on the side closest to the house which meant that if it came down, it would fall on the house. It would, in all likelihood, demolish much of the house. With growing experience of falling trees here and mindful of the high probability of increasingly severe and frequent weather events, it just wasn’t a risk we were comfortable taking any longer. We have many trees, some very large, but this was the only tree that threatened the house.

This was a job for a specialist Because of its sheer size, its location close to the house, surrounded by some rather special plants we wanted to save, stone walls, pond, septic tank and other considerations, it was going to need to be dismantled and taken down branch by branch. We discovered we had an arborist up the road and asked for a quote. The price came in at considerably less than I had feared and we crossed our fingers that he knew what he was doing. He did.

The location and flat grown meant a cherry picker could be used, for the lower 17.5 metres at least

The operation took two days. On the first day, he used a cherry picker with a reach up to 17.5 metres to remove almost all the side branches and foliage. Goodness, the cherry picker makes an arborist’s job much easier, faster and presumably safer. We watched in admiration as he was able to control dropping branches in the few, available clear spaces before he had to move onto roping and then lowering larger pieces by winch. It was only the top eight metres he had to do by climbing into the tree.

On day two, he dropped the last length of stripped trunk in one piece. He and his assistant – on this occasion, his wife – cleaned up as they went, chipping the branches and foliage so that we now have two truckloads of fresh garden mulch. When he left at the end of day two, everything was cleaned up except the wood that is to be split for firewood. All the mess had been raked up and the paved areas cleaned with a leaf blower. The total damage was limited to holes in the lawn where heavy branches had hit and one camellia that is a little smaller than at the start. Given the tight space he was working in, we were super impressed.

If anybody local wants a skilled (and cheerful) arborist, contact me. We are happy to recommend him.

For those of you curious about the firewood: yes, there is plenty of it but it is really just like soft pine so fine for burning but not top quality.

Picea omorika is the narrow tree in the centre. It, too, will have to be felled before it falls of its own accord

The Picea omorika still has to be dropped. Again, we hesitated but it will fall too, and probably sooner rather than later. It is a good example of a tree that was not kept to a single leader in its infancy. It grew with three trunks. Two have split out in storms in recent years, which is why we think the remaining trunk will also go. If we get it dropped, the damage can be controlled and I can still keep the essential bottom two metres to which the washing line is tied.

Alas poor kereru

We certainly felt sad to fell a mighty Noble Fir. We felt even sadder when on day two of the process, a kereru (our lovely native wood pigeon which is regarded as vulnerable, though not endangered) flew straight into an upstairs window and died. We had wondered why birds did not hit those windows when they hit the other upstairs windows, but now realise that it must have been the proximity of the tree that slowed their flight. I went to town the next day and bought a curtain rail and sheer curtains to screen the windows. While we would prefer not to have screened windows, the threat to birds from our double-glazed windows which turn into mirrors on the outside, outweighs our personal indoor preference. Bird strike is not a problem when windows are open because of the change in angles, so we hang screening curtains on curtain hooks and rail (as opposed to curtain wire) so they can easily be pulled to one side when the windows are open.

Maybe the key point of our late Abies procera, is that when planting trees, it pays to look to the future – not 20 years but 50 or more. A miscalculation by the previous generation can leave a vegetable time bomb for the next.

5 thoughts on “Farewell Noble Fir

  1. Maramanu

    Dear Abbie

    This post is not a response to your very interesting Noble Fir article, but touches on an area of your family expertise, and the flowering, now, in my husband’s and my Featherston garden, of Magnolia macrophylla.

    Quite apart from its spectacular appearance and scent, we have found that honey bees go crazy over the stamens, presumably the pollen, for a very short period in the morning. They act in a drunken fashion, clinging onto the stamens even as they slide off the tepals. If enough flowers are of the same age, they will release their stamens in unison and cascade to the ground, some with bees clinging (but releasing the stamen before it goes into free fall). Rather an extraordinary, and very brief phenomenon.

    Do you grow M macrophylla, and do you know anything about what I have described?

    Best regards Maria Fairburn

    On Sun, 24 Nov 2019, 12:04 Tikorangi The Jury Garden, wrote:

    > Abbie Jury posted: ” Farewell Blue Noble Fir. The Abies procera glauca is > no more. This was not a decision we reached lightly. The tree was almost as > old as our house, planted in the early 1950s. It started life here as a > pleasingly pyramidal tree in the rockery but when ” >

    Reply
    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      Alas our M. macrophylla was blown over and died. But no, we have not observed drunken bees – can’t have been looking at the right time of the day! Congratulations on your acute observation skills.

      Reply
  2. tonytomeo

    How unfortunate. They really are exquisite trees in the right situations. Sadly, I inspect many trees that are exemplary specimens that must be removed because they grew into the wrong situations.

    Reply

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