PDT Outdoor Columnist
The street trees of Portsmouth are Corinthian Linden. They are a narrow upright variety of Little Leaf Linden that was developed and patented by the Zambini Family at Lake County Nursery in Ohio, up on the lake. Its width is 15 feet and that’s half the normal Little Leaf Linden’s 30 foot width. This makes it a natural for street tree plantings. It also shapes itself nicely into a compact, narrow, upright form. This tree will take whatever trimming you give it and flourish. It can grow naturally to a 35 foot height in a tightly pyramidal shape or it can get pruned to half its size and come back in the same full, tight, upright pyramid. Once again, it responds well to pruning. I’ve grown these trees for 30 years and I’ve never seen a better street tree.
Before we planted these trees for Mayor Greg Bauer 15 years ago, in Portsmouth, we had already used the Corinthian Linden in the streetscape projects in Gallipolis, Ohio and across the river in Point Pleasant, West Virginia.
At that time, everyone was doing streetscape projects and downtown renovation. We worked the Gallipolis, Point Pleasant, Jackson, Waverly, and Wellston projects. We did a lot of dwarf flowering trees in Jackson and Wellston. The north-south streets were white flowering and the east-west streets were pink. That was a beautiful sight in bloom. Those were design-bid and I believe they were a winner.
In Gallipolis, I first saw the Corinthian Linden specified and as I researched it, I became very interested in growing it. It seemed like the low maintenance answer to the over-planted, troublesome, Bradford Pear found on most streets by then.
The Corinthian Linden has all the upright shape and limb strength that the Bradford Pear is lacking. If the pear doesn’t blow apart in a windstorm, it will get so big and wide that it’s not a good street tree choice. Its constant limb issues are a problem to the service director and the huge shape is in the way of the pedestrian and vehicular traffic, as well as merchant signs. The flower of the pear was pretty but came with a foul odor.
When Portsmouth did the streetscape, I bid it and suggested the benefits of the Linden and the downfall of the pears. The powers to be at that time, in their sash and ultimate wisdom, chose the pears and someone else to plant them. They grew and grew for 20 years, became way too big for the street and attracted a huge bird gathering.
By the time Mayor Bauer and Service Director Mike Blackburn contacted me, at about the turn of the century, their main concern was seeing the street, sidewalks, and business signs better, and what can we do about these birds? My response to that was a tree that is one-fourth in size can only hold one-fourth as many birds or block one-fourth as many merchant signs. I consider that sales pitch to be one of my proudest moments because it was such common sense and I had the proven product. They could see them in my nursery or see the ones planted 20 years prior on the streets of Gallipolis and Point Pleasant.
This led to street tree replacement for us for several years. Over a 5 year period, we removed 200 Bradford Pear on Chillicothe, Second, and Market Streets. Also included was one block east and west of Chillicothe Street on Second Street through Ninth Street. They were all replaced with the Corinthian Linden.
As we chipped the pear brush, it was evident that there had been a bird problem. We wore breathing masks as we chipped the limbs. They were all white and it smelled like a white cloud of chicken coop dust. Redoing anything is always a lot more labor-intensive the second time around because it involves destruction prior to construction. These 15 inch stumps now had to be ground out to plant the new trees in those same 3’x3’ and 4’x4’ spaces in the concrete sidewalks. That was fun. We didn’t find any arrowheads, but we did find about 100 feet of street light wiring wrapped around the grinder wheel. It took about 5 seconds. The good news is that it was daylight, the lights weren’t on and the wires weren’t hot. Down through the years, I’ve been very happy with the way these trees have grown, not grown and shaped up. They were planted over a five year period, so they’re different ages and heights. For that matter, we’re still planting these Lindens in 2013 and 2014. This means that with proper pruning, they can fit the sidewalk, street curb, and merchant signs. This same pruning can “even-age” them down through the years, if understood and done with the “big picture” in mind. I feel fortunate to have been able to have worked with so many mayors and service directors through the years, to become and remain a part of your street tree program. It’s been important to me since I planted them for Mayor Bauer, that each administration since feel a need to continue that pride in pruning or replacement. It’s a good plan and it’s still working. My latest plantings are being done through The Shade Tree Commission of Portsmouth. This has been more than a repeat customer – it’s been a very visible on-going labor of love. It’s about a community, its people, its economy, its past, its future, its image and its legacy.
I believe those factors to be a lot of anyone’s impression of Portsmouth as they see the street trees and I believe, as well, that the look and condition of these street trees dictate a lot of our thoughts of community well-being at a glance. We should look at them as if we’re seeing them for the first time – through the eyes of a visitor, prospective resident, or employer. Are they neat, well-kept, well planned, and complimentary of their surroundings? If so, the big picture looks better, doesn’t it? That why I feel so into this project. It goes much deeper than just planting and selling trees.
In my next article, “What’s in a name?” we’ll ask why names like “basswood, tilia, lime, line, and linden” all apply to the same type of tree. Tilia is the genus but they’ve taken on many monikers at many locations and dates in time. Remember – “A city without street trees isn’t fit for a dog.”