22 May 2008

Do As I Say, Not As I Do!!!!

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My courtyard with spring flowers going crazy.

 

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my landscaping, bragging really, about how pretty all my flowers were this spring - you can read my braggadocious column here.  I also wrote about how, when close to twenty years ago, we were looking for a lot to build our house on and we specifically chose this one because of a beautiful, huge, old  water oak that was growing smack in the middle of the front yard.  The tree's age and girth even affected the size of our house.  In drawing up the floor plans, we shaved approximately five feet off of our front living room - so as not to be forced to cut any of the tree's roots.   And then, we flipped our floor plan - putting the garage on the right as opposed to how it was originally drawn on the left, so that we could, of course, showcase the oak tree.  As I wrote last April, our tree has been fruitful:   one acorn from it produced a baby water oak at the edge of our yard.  To save Baby Water Oak, when pouring our concrete driveway, we narrowed it from two lanes to one, a solution that hasn't been very successful - a few visitors have lost their rear view mirrors negotiating the narrow drive and the ominous tree trunk.  

 

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Baby Water Oak, grown from an acorn off the huge  oak tree on our yard.   It creates an obstacle course for visitors.  Healthy and growing, no stress for this water oak.

 

Another acorn from our prolific old tree  was taken by Mary, my mother in law, seventeen years ago, right about the time my daughter was born.  And grow - they both did.  Elisabeth's Tree, as it is known in the family, towers over Mary's yard, letting little sunlight filter in for grass to grow underneath it's branches.  As you can surmise, we cherish our tree and nurture it.  It's our responsibility.  We prune it and feed it and schedule an annual preventive care regimen given by the tree care man.    Yet, basically, we leave our tree alone to do what trees do:  to shade us, give haven to the squirrels and a nesting home for the birds.   People who visit often remark on the tree's beauty and we always agree, exclaiming our deep and profound appreciation for all that our beautiful water oak has added to our lives and our home. 

 

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Better days:  last summer - lots of dark green leaves.

 

So, imagine, our horror at discovering that despite all our good intentions, we were killing our beloved tree.   When I posted the picture of it  last April, I wrote "it's just now getting it's leaves back after winter" - but in truth, the water oak never goes completely bald and by April, the tree should already have had all its new leaves, dark green and shiny.   A few days ago,  I really opened my eyes to the situation and realized, it's almost June, where are all the new leaves?  Why are these leaves so tiny and so light colored?   A rush of dread bubbled up as my mind raced  - something is seriously wrong here and I placed a frantic call to the tree care man who assured me he would come by the next morning to take a look.

 

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Stressed out tree - reduced canopy with smaller leaves.

 

The next morning, Ted, the tree man, proclaimed that yes, the tree was definitely stressed out, so stressed out that the leaf canopy was not what is should be.    Most distressing of all was his news that we had caused it.   You see, last year we added outdoor lights to the house and did some basic upkeep landscaping.  Not much grass ever grew underneath the oak, so we decided to add a large flowerbed under the tree.   We had it professionally installed by a landscaper.  But the design perfectionist in me was never happy aesthetically with the flowerbed, and I had our yard man fix it up, move plants around, add more plants, add mulch, raise the bed, you know - just make it better.   But instead, the yard man, not having a degree in Landscape Design or Forestry  from Texas A&M raised the bed too high.  About a foot too high to be exact.  A tree needs its root collar to be exposed to breathe -  who knew?  Otherwise it suffocates and goes into stress and dies.  Hopefully, we may be able to save it at this point, "as long as mushrooms don't start growing on the trunk," the tree man said.   Huh????     Today a crew of those pesky illegal aliens showed up to take away all the gorgeous hydrangeas and ferns and begonias.  What they left me with was a huge circle of dirt in the middle of my yard, and little holes all over, deep in the ground for "aeration."  

 

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The tree men starting their dirty work - I moved the ferns to the back yard. 

 

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Eeek - what I'm left with, an empty flowerbed and lots of holes in the ground.

 

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The tree man pulls back the remaining layer of earth around the root collar to show how thick and dense the compacted dirt had become, actually suffocating the tree.  You can  see a line around the base where the soil came up to - almost over a foot too high.

 

And so,  tonight, I'm left with  the barren bed and an almost bare tree.    It's all as ugly as can be, but hopefully, along with a regimen of medicine, our tree will start breathing again and will flourish.  Hopefully.  Otherwise, we're in the market for a either a new tree or a new home.   Learn from our mistake:   don't build up soil around the base of any tree.   The soil should be level or even below level around the root collar.    We were told we could plant ivy on the barren circle, as long as we don't add any soil.  We'll see.  We're going to give it time to just breathe.    Do we think just removing the dirt will cure the stress?   At this point, it's hard to believe - we're just going to have to wait it out.

 

frenchhB

If the tree does die, we're moving.  It will be too hard to live here without it.  We'll be in the market for a house like this, somewhere in the south of France.   It's best to always look on the bright side, I've been told.

47 comments:

  1. Aww...that story makes me sad. I hope your tree recovers!

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  2. My tree surgeon wants me to put a ring of 1-2inch thick bark mulch from just beyond the tree collar to the edge of the leaf line, so I don't keep mowing the roots. Its nearly fifty feet of lawn I'm to cover. But since I too love my tree, I probably will, a little at a time. What grows under your trees in the wild in Texas? Could you replicate that landscape, with ground covers and things, without tearing up the ground or changing the soil? Bluebells, or something? Maybe a new landscaper? They should know these things I think.

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  3. Joni, I am so sorry for you and the tree. This was a wakeup call. I think I'm doing the same thing to a dogwood in my yard. Tomorrow I shall begin moving plants! Thanks.

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  4. Wow! This story hit me like a ton of bricks!!! Tomorrow I will be checking ALL my beautiful trees very carefully.

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  5. Hope your tree sees new leaves soon, the ferns did look lovely surrounding it though. Moving to the south of France would be such a reward :)

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  6. I hope your tree lives...but then consoling yourself with a house in the Sth of France is not such a bad thought!

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  7. oh. man. i SO miss big old trees. your house is beautiful (haven't seen that shot before) and coming from a so cal beach town, i really envy your sidewalks.

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  8. Oh, I am so sorry to hear about your tree. Who knew?! You see that kind of under tree landscaping in Houston all the time. I hope your oak makes a full recovery!!

    (PS Love love love your blog.)

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  9. Joni, I am so sorry this has happened with your beautiful old tree! I hope she is healed and thriving, soon!

    J is going out for a look around the yard, this morning. Thank you so much for this post!

    Pat

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  10. I share your concern for the health of trees. Big mature hardwoods are not easy to come by and cannot be replaced the same way if they die. Good for you in calling a tree specialist and doing all you can to save your tree. I wish more people would do that instead of just chopping them down and replanting a piddly small tree in it's place. I wish you well. I know how nice it is to have your house framed by big beautiful trees and it just wouldn't be the same without them!

    Kelly

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  11. I never realized that about covering the roots of some type of trees!

    I am not sure whether I have ever seen an outside shot of your house. It is very attractive! I pictured you in a more European style home, kind of like the home of that family that you featured last month.

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  12. You are right always looking for the bright side! and I can add that there is always something positive in a bad news. I'm sure your tree won't die but if it will you may come to the south of France , near by me ...and we will meet ...

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  13. Here in SoCal, we cover the perimeter of our great oaks with river rock. It lets the rain and water through, gives the "cuff or ruff" that we need visually and no roots from plantings. Your home is beautiful, and thank you over and over for the fabulous postings. Gives me much pleasure. Charlies G'ma.

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  14. oh no! good luck with your beautiful tree.

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  15. My late father was the President of the MD Horticultural Society and he always said that the huge collar of mulch that landscapers put around tree trunks kept the roots from getting the much-needed moisture and from breathing, rather than holding the moisture in.

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  16. Oh Joni, who was to know that this would have happened. I probably would have done the same thing. The ferns and flowers looked so gorgeous. I think it will recover, it was just calling out to you and you heard!

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  17. My condolences on your poor tree. We had an infestation of tree beetles about 5 years ago and lost our 3 largest trees. It was like starting from scratch - no shade in the dessert! Ugh! I'll be sending out good tree thoughts to you.

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  18. wow.... who would have thunk... that beautiful landscaping could smother a tree... so so good to know... about root collars . We're pulling for the water oak here in the hill country !!

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  19. I am confused on this one! Here in South La. we have SO many live oaks (gorgeous) that have a 10 foot radius of cast iron plants around them. They are all appx 150-300 years old and have had that ground-cover for as long as I can remember, and they seem to be just thriving away. I wonder why that is? I know that water oaks pull something like 300+gallons of water a day (which is why they should never be planted too close to a house/slab) but I am so perplexed by this!?!


    Andrea

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  20. oh my! this is devastating, really.
    we have a live oak in our front yard - it's huge - 26" trunk. i planted cast irons around it last year - i hope it causes no harm... i see it everywhere... cast irons under oak trees... i'm going to investigate this further. maybe it's okay to plant under a live oak? we have no grass in the front yard... we just lay pine straw... hmmm... perplexed. i would have hauled any plants away that you couldn't salvage... and cared for them as if they were my own... too bad Houston isn't closer!

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  21. Oh, Joni, so very sorry to learn that your water oak is not well. Ever being the spiritual one, I am lighting a candle on my little altar for your tree. A friend of mine was once losing a giant sabal palm. She, too, sought the help of an arborist supplemented by a continual lighting of a St. Jude candle by its base. I thought she might burn the palm to the ground! Today, the palm is again flourishing. Once on a bumpy plane ride, I was sitting next to a very nice Jewish lady when the turbulence was really rough. I pulled out my rosary ... to my surprise she said, "teach me one of your prayers" and "do that thing where you make the sign of the cross"! We both laughed! So hey! Now I'm saying prayer petitions for your water oak! Can't hurt, can it?

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  22. Eeek! I hope it survives. We have had many of the beautiful huge Elm trees on our street cut down because of Elm beetle infestation, so I understand why you want to hold onto your tree. Your alternatives (South of France and trying the river rock idea) sound promising however. Good Luck!

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  23. The greatest concentration of roots occurs in the top foot of soil. Hard to believe, but this is true even of a tree as large and mature as your specimen. When the soil or mulch is built up too high, and not over a period of time, it has a suffocating effect.

    Thanx for the important reminder.

    You know, Texans are a tough breed, here's hoping for a good outcome!

    Libby

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  24. The greatest concentration of roots occurs in the top foot of soil. Hard to believe, but this is true even of a tree as large and mature as your specimen. When the soil or mulch is built up too high, and not over a period of time, it has a suffocating effect.

    Thanx for the important reminder.

    You know, Texans are a tough breed, here's hoping for a good outcome!

    Libby

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  25. I'm so sorry about your tree...the thing about big mature trees, is that it seems they are indestructable. I've attempted to plant some flowers around a coral tree in my backyard, and the roots from the tree choked out any possibility for the flowers to grow. So, yeah typically you would think the old tree would be able to fend for itself. I see that's not the case. Thanks for sharing your experience with us.

    Susan

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  26. We recently planted 4 trees a in some new and old gardens and actually raised the bed of a new garden that is home to an existing tree.... uh oh. That may be a problem.

    I'll mention this to the 'big guy' and see what he knows about this.

    You know... if you do move to the south of France you will be getting plenty of visitors... :)

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  27. Thanks everyone for your kind thoughts about my tree - I hate to scare people and what's true for me doesn't make it true for you. But the dirt was thick and piled up high and it was compacted - the man could pull it back like a scab -- it was that compacted. But who knows if that is really what is wrong? He swears it is, let's hope so.

    AND AND AND AND

    A note for clarification - I just got an email from someone questioning my wording = Those pesky illegal aliens ---- I want to be sure that everyone who reads this blog understands that was total sarcasm on my part! It was a joke aimed at all the dittoheads of the world. AS I explained to this person - Texas is dependent and has been dependent on the people who come from South America and Mexico to work here and make a better life for their families. Our state would collapse economically and socially if these people were deported as some would like to do. Without the toil of these workers, we would not be where we are today in Texas. They have built all of our roads, all of our homes, and all of our buildings and built them very cheaply, I might add - not demanding high wages for their labor. And without their labor - we would not have made the advances we have in the last 20 years. I am a staunch democrat, I am against the border wall, I am for the workers being allowed to stay and get citizenship. I took it for granted that all my readers would know this. Thanks for understanding and I certainly never intended to offend anyone - it was a joke and I refuse to be chastised for it.

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  28. Thanks Joni for the clarification. I have to say when I first read this I was appalled. I have been reading your posts for awhile and it seemed a bit out of character. I understand it was just your devilish wit. But somehow I'm still shaking my head a little. Mostly because as I read the comments I noticed not one person even mentioned it. All I read were condolences for your tree. And by the way I am sorry about that. But I think I'm more sad that not one person challenged it. I imagine my comment will make me the whipping boy (or girl, your guess) with your other regulars. But I hope it makes some think. (There I go gettin' all preachy again!)

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  29. Remove the pesky alien comment, I don't care if you were kidding - It isn't funny and for an intelligent woman, it is a careless remark. Sorry, you should be chastised. Period

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  30. Nothing like a little comment to bring out the anonymous posters - why not leave your name? What are you scared of? Being googled and exposed for being a hypocrit? I'm not going to remove it EVER. It was said sarcastically - and the reason no one commented on is becuase most people probably don't even read this blog all the way through and if they do = they know it was said sarcastically. I have the emails to prove it.

    I wrote that exact statement because everytime in Houston or Texas when you have dirty work to do, who comes to do it? The people who in 2010 are virtually slaves to our follies and still, America wants to kick them out of the country without one word of thanks for all the work they've done here. America wants to tear apart families - imprison them (and if you don't believe me, you can drive down to the valley with me this summer when we drive right by one of America's prisons for Hispanic families working without a visa (which America conveniently refuses to issue to these people). NOPE, sorry - I'm not removing it. It was written in sarcasm against all the ditto heads and O'Reilly lovers. And it exactly proves my point - you have dirty work to do, they will do it all and for little to no money or gratitude and all they ask is to work here and raise their families here and pay their fair share of taxes and that's too much for everyone on the fox network or on the Republican aisle.

    My comment was said in complete sarcasm against those who no nothing about which they speak. It was said to those who when reading this blog and seeing the pictures and who harbor racist views would know that I know what they are thinking and I don't condone it. It was my way of stating the obvious.

    You don't know me, you have no right to judge me without stating your name and address just as I have. When you do that - I"ll be glad to take this discussion to email. But the statement stands and really even more so now for all your preconceived notions about me and my readers. You don't know what was said to me privately in email about this. You have no credibility here as long as you are anonymous. I'm about one second away from banning anonmymous posters and poster without email addresses.

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  31. I'm all for banning anonymous posters. It seems like some people have nothing better to do than participate in character assasination without taking responsibility. I was totally oblivious to the whole "alien pesky" part of your blog. I don't want to make the anon a "whipping post" I just want you to step up and "Choose an Identity". Launching missiles that can't be traced back to you is cowardly.

    Peace,
    Susan

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  32. Joni, thank you so much for stopping by and leaving an encouraging comment on my blog. It warms my heart when you do that!

    Peace,
    Susan

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  33. From anon 9:49. Look. I am now being attacked for stating what I thought was the obvious. I realize Joni's post and comment was done with tongue in cheek. I did read the post all the way thru, twice even. It isn't a stretch for someone to believe after reading it that it was a questionable comment, even if it wasn't done with malise. I am not a blogger. I do not have a blog to promote. And I am far from a right wing fanatic. I am a reader. I am not trying to attack Joni's character. I love her posts and read them all the time. I made the comment as anon because it is my right to do so. Attacking my character and calling me a coward is a bit sophomoric. If you do not like that people will make observations anon, then by all means stop allowing anon. But just so you know, I have made many comments here anon all very supportive and adoring of Joni. I hope to continue to do so.

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  34. My apologies anon 1:28 am
    I had no wish to attack you. If my behavior on here is "sophomoric", maybe it's because I'm new, I don't know. Truce please.

    Peace,
    Susan

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  35. Anon 9:59 - I wasn't really talking to you, I was talking to the next anon - I don't like being told what to do like that especially as I had explained my comment earlier. But again, it was sarcasm - my way of sending out a message that I am not in agreement with the current waves of racial stereotyping and scapegoating. I'm sorry that both you and the other anon don't agree with my way of communicating, but I feel confident that most people do see the comment for how it was intended: sarcasm. I'm sorry, I just can't make it any plainer. I think my words on my blog for the past year confirm that I am not a racist and anyone who reads my blog knows I sometimes use sarcasm. And yes, it was without malice, I can assure you. And if I offended you, I apologize - it certainly was never my intent to offend anyone other than those that feel we have a 'illegal alien problem' in this country! - truce?

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  36. Dear Joni, I got the joke and was not offended.

    Sign me a grateful G'ma, who would not have two beautiful and delightful grandchildren, had their paternal grandparents not come to America to work, over 40 years ago. They are now American citizens and homeowners in the US and still own an old family home in Mexico. We are constantly amazed at the work ethic!

    Thanks Joni!
    Pat

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  37. Wow, the fur is flying! LOL. Uh-oh, don't want to get condemned....maybe that was insensitive to your animal readers...was it? I am just going to apologize in advance - just in case.
    At any rate, I am sorry about the tree, I hope it recovers (or maybe not, postings from your new place in the South of France could be pretty spectacular) Thanks to the wonderful workers who freed the tree's collar and who keep America's yards and green spaces from being neglected and rundown!

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  38. Joni, I read every word of your post, and I am astounded that your comment garnered criticism. Apparently, misguided political correctness can suffocate (pun intended) the ability of some to discern sarcasm, wit, parody, irony, etc. Sad. Oh, and I just knew you had to be a Democrat. As the lone, rabid Democrat residing on a Republican cul-de-sac in Houston, I assure you that life can be interesting. Alas, my sarcasm, wit, parody, irony, etc. is oftentimes not understood nor appreciated. ***And, by the way, every majestic, glorious old tree should have such an appreciative, concerned caretaker.
    Cheers,
    Sharon Stanley Ruggerio

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  39. Thanks Sharon for your support! I'm glad you recognized the sarcasm for what it was! jeez!!! I'm not THAT stupid to be prejudice and then print it for all the world to see...but whatever.

    Hey - I didn't know you lived in Houston! I thought you were from NY? Let me guess the cul de sac Memorial????

    thanks again for the support, I need it.

    Joni

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  40. From anon 9:49 and 1:28. Hey Joni I'm sorry too. I really do love you blog and visit it everyday. My first foray into the blogispher was you. After reading your posts and the links you had, well, it just kinda snowballed. And I still check your posts everday to see what wonderful thing you will come up with next. You are truly a gem. Diamond I think. And, well I, I love ya man.

    P.S.
    femme hesse truce.

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  41. Anon: ok, truce accepted!!! haha - omg, I've been so upset about this - it was total sarcasm directed against those who hate "illegal aliens" - and it just killed me that someone ddn't see the sarcarm !! thanks for all your kind words. ok - enough of politics, more design.

    Joni

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  42. Joni, sorry to say that I'm not in N.Y. or Memorial. In reality, my cul-de-sac is smack in the middle of suburban Houston, and I'm just trying to "bloom where I'm planted." But, if perchance to dream, my FOREVER HOME would be a little adobe under the stars in Taos or Santa Fe, an old stone ruin with a rooftop terrace in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, or anything remotely habitable in the countryside of France or Italy. I secretly long to be Dame Maggie Smith in "My House in Umbria" or Diane Lane in "Under the Tuscan Sun" or one of the ladies in "Enchanted April."
    And how nice to see that you are enjoying a brighter day. Having your own blog surely requires a considerable degree of courage and can stress a sensitive, creative person. Just know that your site is absolutely luminous. It is witty, bold, refreshing, original, stylish, educational, and fun. Quite a feat, I would say.
    Happy Sunday,
    Sharon Stanley Ruggerio

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  43. Love your tree! I also think your comment on the workers was a good way of opening a can of worms. It is time to aerate not only your tree but also a lot racism that seems to be pretty deep. I'm glad it is generating a lot of comments -it should. I think apathy is killing this country and I'm glad to see people speak out. I took it tongue in cheek and even if I did believe you to be racist (which I don't) I'm glad you would say it rather than being secretive.

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  44. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  45. Thanks Alex - I know YOU know the truth! thanks,
    Joni

    SHARON ---- ok, I'll join you in Umbria over France, you can be Diane Lane and I"ll be Dame Maggie (oy! - I'd rather be Diane!)

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  46. Oh Joni, I somehow missed this post.

    And I love your retort to the Anon. I had to enable comment moderation to kill a troll that would NOT leave me alone. Of course he always posted anonymously - always. And his attacks were very childish and got quite personal. So he is gone forever.

    I did know about the "tree circles" and their impact on trees. I'd done it years earlier and have watched 2 neighbors do similar things to their trees, killing them in the process. One guy scraped the daylights out of the top foot of soil under a maple with a 30" diameter trunk. The other guy added about a foot of soil, a pond and enough solar powered path lights to land a Cessna under his tree. When it died he then cut the top off and had a "sculptor" carve the two remaining big branches with birds. I feel like I am living in a trailer park. Ack. What I really want to do is go over there in the middle of the night and burn it down.

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  47. Oh my god, there's so much useful material in this post!

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