Life is change, and change upsets many people. Change came last Thursday to Portsmouth’s South Church, a Unitarian Universalist congregation, when two trees were cut down in front of the building. One was a 90-year-old European copper beech, and the other a robust sugar maple. I had just finished scouting a house for Coastal Home and stopped by the church to take a photo of the controversial takedown.
The shallow-rooted trees had been planted too close to the church for their ultimate sizes. The debate over the removals touched me, because I have a poorly sited copper beech at home and often ponder its removal or the extensive, expensive professional pruning that it will need to keep it in check. At South Church, the bare beech seemed to loom over the entry, even without its canopy of big dark purple leaves. The roots of the beech, according to newspaper reports, were already damaging the building’s foundation and starting to lift the steps leading into the church, thus creating a future hazard to the congregation.
When I returned to the site Easter Sunday (April 8), new beds had been installed on the two front corners of the property, each with a multi-stemmed magnolia in the corner. As the magnolias mature, they of course will grow taller and wider, but not hugely so. They will soften the façade and bringing some privacy to people gathered inside the fence at sidewalk level. In fact, the new landscape looks to me like a garden with a designed and functional gathering space.
Like many gardeners, my mantra is right plant, right place, so that beloved trees like the copper beech won’t suffer illness or premature removal. On Easter morning, someone who had disagreed with the Portsmouth beech removal drew a white outline of a little tree canopy where the big tree used to be and wrote inside it one word, “SIN.” Did church leaders, who apparently held a public tree forum and responded with compassion and transparency toward concerned members and residents, miss the mark by taking down the trees? I don’t think so. I hope that the controversy stimulates caring discussion on siting trees for their best outcomes in terms of health, function, and ease of maintenance. What’s your opinion?