Have you ever spent any time thinking about Arbor Day?  I know it sounds a little silly with all of the important issues we deal with these days, but at a time when many of us are “snowed in” and perhaps looking for a little distraction, I’d like to consider that day in April.  I must admit, that even as a landscape designer who derives much of his livelihood from the use of trees, the thought of Arbor Day elicits only vague memories of elementary school observances, following the science teacher into the courtyard to plant a twig.  Oh, we’re reminded of the occasion each year when the junk mail arrives right on time with a packet of colorful pictures and information, pleading for a donation to keep this tradition alive.  But like most people, after a short, cursory perusal of the packet, I toss it into the trash.  Because we are fortunate enough to live in an area with lots of trees and many tree-conscious homeowners and organizations, we often take trees and the many benefits they provide for granted.  That was not the case a century ago when Arbor Day had its origins.

In the 1850’s, J. Sterling Morton moved to Nebraska only to discover a barren plain with virtually no trees for shade, windbreak, or beauty.  Being a lover of nature, he missed the beauty and functionality of trees as well as shrubs and other “landscape” plants.   Morton and other fellow pioneers hearkened back to their ancestral roots in Europe where trees and the cultivated landscape had thrived for centuries and they longed for the same in this new land.  Through much diligence and effort at grass roots education, Morton gained prominence and influence and in 1872 was able to help enact the first tree planting holiday—Arbor Day.  On that first holiday, a million trees were planted in Nebraska!  The tradition caught on and soon schools around the country were observing their own version of Arbor Day.  By the turn of the century, millions and millions of trees were being planted nationwide.  Today, countries around the world also celebrate tree planting days often based on the efforts of Mr. Morton.  Celebrating his father’s accomplishments, Morton’s son, Joy, established the Morton Arboretum in Chicago in 1922 (funded by his fortune as the founder of Morton Salt). The arboretum is a destination all Midwest landscape lovers should plan to visit. 

Morton’s efforts in the 1800’s were vital in creating the foundation for communities and cities to enjoy the benefits of trees.   Those benefits are no less important today; in addition to just being beautiful, trees offer shade often reducing temperatures 20%, protection from wind, habitat for birds and wildlife, and conservation of soil.  Trees can provide fruit (there’s nothing better than picking apples in your backyard) and a place to put a great swing; they offer a place to carve young, heart-felt emotions or memorialize a loved one.  In short, trees are cool!  Each succeeding generation has an opportunity (an obligation I would argue) to make the future just a little better through the planting of trees.  So this Arbor Day, don’t throw that literature in the trash—read it and think about how trees have made your life more enjoyable.  Then get out and plant a tree!  Greenleaf Garden Services will even help!! This weekend, join us on Saturday, February 5th at the Prairie Village Shops for a Valentine Event from 10:00 to 4:00 where the Greenleaf gang, along with board certified arborists will answer all your tree questions.  And in honor of Arbor Day, Greenleaf is offering a special half-price tree deal.  It is good for one professionally planted tree of your choice but only if you join us on Saturday.  Call Greenleaf for all the details.  Happy gardening, or rather, tree planting!

Contributing editor:  Don Archer, Don Archer Designs in partnership with Greenleaf Garden Services