So suddenly, it was done…

You know that god-awful feeling when a beloved pet gets hit by a car? Well, even if you don’t (which I hope), you can probably imagine the gut-wrenching sorrow that ensues. How could this have been prevented? Why did this happen? What could I have said or done differently to avoid it?

Today was a bad day. It started well enough, but ended in a panic of mortified disbelief. In November of last year, I called a tree pruning person whose name I had gotten from a gardener friend. I had called several arborists before, who had come out to look, but when the time came to actually do it (as in late fall) I couldn’t get anyone to give me a call back. So, I found this guy – recommended by someone I had no reason to mistrust. There was some dilly-dallying. At first, he had knee-surgery, and was out for a while. Then, I was out of the country for a month, immediately followed by a month of playing catchup with work. So, at the end of March, I called again, and asked if it was advisable to do it, this late in the spring. We decided that it would probably be okay if we stuck to the little stuff, like taking the dead stuff out, minor crossing branches, etc. In all, I had received the recommendation to open the tree up by about 30% to increase air flow, and reduce the endlessly excessive leaf drop. So, okay – let’s do it! Today was the day.

He arrived an hour and a half late. I had a client appointment mid-day. This made me a bit nervous – especially since the tree guy got here late. Recommendations aside, I wanted to be there at least until I could rest assured he knew what he was doing. We stood underneath the massive canopy, pointed upward, and in as descriptive terms as we could, talked about what he should do. Then I had to leave. Ironically enough, the client I was to meet, has a magnificent Sequoia in a corner of her back yard. She considers it the Guardian of the property, and I can see why. It is a beautiful tree, and it is in a great, non-obstructive location. It really does feel like the Guardian of the Family, and the entire design of her backyard has centered on that tree. Mature trees are important. All other benefits aside, landscaping with trees can increase property values with as much as 20%.

When I came back, to my great joy, the entire top of the canopy had been cleared of a bunch of dead wood, and opened up quite elegantly. It was time to start on the lower levels. I explained (or at least I tried to) how I liked the shady, green embrace of the canopy on hot summer days, and how I like to sit under the branches and read, but how the lower branches needed to be cut up a little because the evergreen screening plants that are growing beneath it, toward the street, were pushing up into the first tier. So, open it up a little? Yes, a little – no major branches – right? Since he had done such a nice job, and I thought we were speaking the same language, I relaxed, and walked into the back yard, feeling that everything was fine. I managed spend the greater part of one day last weekend playing in the garden, but my solitary moments are so few, and so far between, I truly cherished the idea that I was going to have the afternoon pretty much to myself, in my garden.

I heard the chain saw, but it didn’t make me panic. I mean, on a tree this size, even the smaller branches have some girth. After a while, I wandered back out front – and just about had a heart attack!!!!! Holy fucking shit- there was a MASSIVE HOLE above the Fatsia. OH MY FUCKING GOD – not AT ALL first tier…. The entire street face of my Magnolia was gone. The north facing privacy shelter of my magical, shady cave ripped out! The branches I had wanted pruned up were untouched, and still touching the top of the Fatsia. Other than a few well chosen snips, I made him leave them in place, or the tree would have looked completely lopsided. Actually, leaving them didn’t do much good – the violence of the enormous, gaping hole above it breaks my heart. I have no real hope of any of it ever filling out again – at least not in my lifetime – since all the major branches that would have supported new growth, are gone.  It’s like a meteorite hit a roof, and took out a massive hole. All of a sudden, I can see neighbors again, and trust me – I really didn’t want to. The main reason for me building the wall along the property line, backfilling and planting the shade shrubs was to create more level, PRIVATE space behind it.

He was apologetic, but not overly so. “I’m sorry, I misunderstood”, he said. Mortified, I could hear myself stuttering “But we said no major branches!?!?!?!” and “Remember – I said I LIKED the shade”. Of course, all of that reproach was completely pointless. Done is done –  so dreadfully, irreversibly done… “Now those other plants will get more light”, he attempted on a more positive note, and pointed to the Fatsia and the others in front. “They’ll grow taller.” Yes, the Fatsia probably will get a little taller, but not 20′ taller. I answered with another one of my feeble, pointless comments, uttered in complete despair and disbelief: “But those are shade plants! They don’t really NEED more light…”

I had hoped that writing this would make me feel better, but it didn’t. I’m still shaking, and  the lump in my throat seems to have lodged itself in there for good. I want to apologize to my maimed Magnolia, but it would do no good. Reading Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree” always made me cry, and I want to cry over this, but I can’t.  The lump in my throat  is too big. I would have posted photos, but I couldn’t even bring myself to look at it. The worst part is that I don’t understand how it could go so wrong… ? When I was gone earlier, everything went fine. After I came back, and we talked about the lower half, I had thought we would be fine. Where did it fail? If anything, this illustrates the importance of good communication – something I apparently do rather miserably.  On this April Fool’s day, I am most definitely the Fool – with a capital F. If this was a joke, it was a cruel one.

The one happy instance that happened today – other than a fun meeting with a wonderful, and funny client – is that I found the charger cord for my camera battery, which had been missing for a while. My dead battery is now charging. Maybe tomorrow, I can supplement this post with cringe-worthy photos of a pruning job gone horribly wrong, but right now I would rather cry until that lump disappears. My lush, wonderful green room is gone, and rather than a haircut, my tree got an amputation – or more so, several. I’m trying to think positively. This could have happened in a storm. It could have been a branch that needed to come out because of disease. But it wasn’t. Regardless of what I pretend, I will always know that it happened because I trusted that someone knew what they were doing. I could see the ginormous cavity as an opportunity, but right now I don’t have the energy to be creative – I’m still weak with sucker-punched disbelief. I suppose I could plant something that thrives in dry shade and grows tall and skinny, behind the Fatsia, but right now, I can’t think of any such plant. Maybe a Clerodendrum would do okay in the northern light?  I could train it in a tree form to save space on the ground level…? Maybe in the dry shade, it won’t sucker so much? Or, I could celebrate the hole, and hang tiered, large, colorful globes, like a mobile of sorts, from the upper branches. Tomorrow, I will go outside, hug my tree, and ask its forgiveness. Other than that, I’ll check back here in the morning – please – oh please, let the good ideas fly! What would you guys do? (Other than cry, that is…)


Here are some photos of the new void.


From across the street. I’m guessing it measures about 25′ across.


From the inside looking out the new hole.


This cut is about 4-5″ across. To my interpretation, not either “dead wood”, or “smaller branches”.


Looking up. He did quite a good job cleaning up the inside, while keeping the canopy intact up here. Now why didn’t he keep doing just THAT?


I used to not have to see this much of the cars and passersby, but this was not the mad pruner’s fault. The lowest branches on this side came out to make room for the neighbors’ bike racks. By now, the major damage was already done, and I was micro-managing.


Looking up into the void from the sidewalk. Three good-sized laterals gone… 

I’ve had a day to live with the void. The more I think about it, the more I think it needs to contain some kind of feature. Something to make it not look like such a giant mishap – you know – more intentional.  Gigantic lanterns? Mobile? Sculpture? On the ground level, to plug the glaring privacy hole, I will probably need some plants, though. I welcome ideas on both. Thanks for all the kind and compassionate comments so far – I’ve really appreciated them.


About annamadeit

I was born and raised in Sweden, By now, I have lived almost as long in the United States. The path I’ve taken has been long and varied, and has given me a philosophical approach to life. I may joke that I’m a sybarite, but the truth is, I find joy and luxury in life’s simple things as well. My outlook on life has roots in a culture rich in history and tradition, and I care a great deal about environmental stewardship. Aesthetically, while drawn to the visually clean, functional practicality and sustainable solutions that are the hallmarks of modern Scandinavia, I also have a deep appreciation for the raw, the weathered, and the worn - materials that tell a story. To me, contrast, counterpoint, and diversity are what makes life interesting and engaging. Color has always informed everything I do. I’m a functional tetrachromat, and a hopeless plantoholic. I was originally trained as an architect working mostly on interiors, but soon ventured outside - into garden design. It’s that contrast thing again… An interior adrift from its exterior, is like a yin without a yang. My firm conviction that everything is connected gets me in trouble time and time again. The world is a big place, and full of marvelous distractions, and offers plentiful opportunities for inquiry and exploration. I started writing to quell my constant queries, explore my discoveries, and nurture my curiosity. The Creative Flux was started in 2010, and became a catch-all for all kinds of intersecting interests. The start of Flutter & Hum at the end of 2013 marks my descent into plant nerd revelry. I occasionally contribute to other blogs, but those two are my main ones. For sure, topics are all over the map, but then again - so am I! Welcome to my blogs!
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35 Responses to So suddenly, it was done…

  1. ‘Like’ is such a useless button. I like your writing, but what you have written is absolutely terrible. Such a climber would perhaps help

    • annamadeit says:

      Thanks, Derrick. I have two that might work. But even so, in order to recreate any semblance of the kind of shelter the original canopy offered will take some screening – which I can’t quite figure out how to incorporate without it looking conspicuous and forced. I just hope the tree doesn’t get sick from the far too excessive, untimely pruning. This was EXACTLY what we had discussed so that it WOULDN’T happen. I’m still agonizing over how the hell it could have happened… I mean, we TALKED about it – several times. Maybe he just zoned out and forgot what he was doing… that’s at least the only explanation I can come up with.

  2. This is just awful. I know in the end you will make this better somehow. What a darn shame. If only we all felt this way about every tree lost to rampant logging and development. Don’t know if you would want to write about this further but it strikes me as a powerful story.

    • annamadeit says:

      I don’t know how anyone could make this better, Valorie… I know this is an insignificant heartache compared to that of so many others in this world, but good grief… As for more systematic logging and clear-cutting, that is tragic on a whole different level. I really think we are spending oxygen we don’t have, with that one. As a specie, we are so mind-numbingly stupid…

      • Agree. We need to get educated, really fast. I don’t know if that is going to happen or not. Sometimes I have hope, sometimes not.

        • annamadeit says:

          Usually not, and especially not now. I’m still fuming. Sometime I think the best thing that could happen is if some horrid disease, or meteorite, or something, would wipe out 4/5 of humans, or something to that degree. You know – allow things to grow back a little, climate to stabilize, etc. Kind of a fresh start to an overstressed planet.

  3. So sorry that happened! I know I would be distraught.

  4. FlowerAlley says:

    First, let me say that you experienced one of my nightmares in real-life. I am so OCD that I took pictures of the trees to be “modified” and marked the predetermined limbs with Sharpie. Then I watched the lovely young Marine climb my trees like a the prefessional fireman he was. He stayed on course and did a great job.
    I do recall my saying, “Don’t make me come up there.” once only. There was also an offer to prune the “Holy Fig” which was declined.
    Second, your life hasn’t shown you the downside of the Giving Tree, which I hate. This is the part of life when you are a stump surrounded by needy, whiners who want apples, shade and firewood from your chopped-off and used-up self.
    Be thankful it was the tree that is stumpy right now and not you mama.

  5. I would refuse to pay him since you had been explicit in your instructions. What a jerk. I’d be furious, too.

    • annamadeit says:

      Mostly I’m furious with myself for letting him out of my sight. But, like I said – he did a good job up top, so I relaxed. All of a sudden, he just turned into fucking Rambo with that chain saw. I’m still mystified as to why – I really felt as if he heard me, as evident by the earlier work. I did pay him, because he didn’t ask for much, and it was a big job, but holy shit – I wish I would have saved my money and gotten a well known arborist instead (although I tried to do that earlier with limited success. Maybe they thought I was a tire kicker…)

  6. erik says:

    Anna, I have only very recently discovered your blog. I really enjoy it. As my mother often says, in a situation such as this, ‘man tagär vad man har’ and then examine and improve if you can. There may yet be a silver lining to this accident once you get past the shock. The tree may surprise you with it’s power to recover what was lost.

    • annamadeit says:

      I keep hoping for this too, Erik. I’m trying to see it as opportunity, but right now, on this sunny Saturday morning, I’m opting to stay in bed and veg in front of the computer, as I can’t bear to face it quite yet. My poor, poor tree… Thanks for your Swedish comment! 🙂

  7. Oh Anna! I am so sorry, that sounds positively horrible. I had a dream the other night (okay nightmare) that a crew showed up and cleared my entire front garden…I think this was after reading about a house that was torn down by mistake. Same street number, different street name. Maybe if you post some pictures I’ll get a brainstorm idea I can share…

    • annamadeit says:

      Oh Loree – I’m beyond crushed… In fact, I woke up at four, thinking about it, and I’m still holed up in my bed, licking my wounds, dreading to go outside. I know I should take advantage of the beautiful day, but I can’t even bear going out there to look at it. Eventually I will, and then I will post some pictures. I would love any and every idea you might have.

    • annamadeit says:

      Oh, and I’m glad it was just a nightmare in your case. I can’t even imagine what it must have felt like to come home to an empty void where your home used to be. It must be 100 times worse… I guess that’s half of my problem right now – when you put things into perspective, a mauled tree – however beloved – seems like not such a big deal. So, not only do I want to cry out my pain – I also feel bad about taking it so hard. Seriously – I wish I could just turn all this emotional bullshit off, and move on.

  8. rusty duck says:

    Don’t beat yourself up. What’s happened is horrible, but it isn’t your fault. You can’t keep a watch on them all the time. One of the trees here was supposed to be ‘thinned’ and it ended up with about a quarter of it left. I missed that too until it was done. They said it was rotten, who am I to know?

    • annamadeit says:

      Aw, I would have been so mad. I’m so sorry you had to experience it too, Jessica. It is a horrible feeling, as you well know. I should have turned that chain saw on him!

  9. Alison says:

    Oh Anna, my heart is aching for you. I know that tendency to go back over what you said over and over, wondering where did it go so wrong? Pictures will help with the generation of ideas. There are shrubs that might like the north light, but it’s hard to know without actually seeing it. I like your idea about hanging ornaments.

  10. rickii says:

    You are a gardener, so of course you take it hard. Communication is such a tricky process: you can think you are being absolutely clear but if you ask the other person to tell you what you said, it comes back in an unrecognizable form. Living with an enthusiastic pruner, I have to go through attitude adjustments more often than I care to mention…and he doesn’t even ask, he just whacks away. I moved from a house we had lived in for 12 years because the neighbors cut down the hedge that separated us, so overreaction is something I’m familiar with. R stopped me from writing a vitiol-filled letter, but he couldn’t stop me from immediately finding another place to live.

  11. Kris P says:

    I’m so sorry, Anna! I can understand the disbelief and the sense of loss you’re experiencing. Your beloved tree has been replaced by a changeling. Give yourself the time to mourn the loss of the original. Then look at the changeling tree as you would a challenge presented by a valued client and give your response the careful consideration it deserves. Your creative spirit will provide an answer, which may have you look at that portion of the garden in a different way entirely. Rather than trying to recreate your shady cave in that location, maybe there’s another spot to create a haven of that sort? Crap does happen, in the garden as in the rest of life, but, an optimist at heart, I believe there’s almost always a solution, even if it’s something you could never have conceived of at the outset.

    • annamadeit says:

      Thank you, Kris – you just made me feel better. I finally went outside and looked at it this afternoon. I’m still devastated, but at least I’ve stopped shaking. You are probably right – I will find some kind of solution. 🙂

  12. Megan says:

    Ugh. I’m so sorry. I know the feeling. My new neighbors have been liberally reaching over the fence and amputating branches on what were formerly healthy well formed trees. I know that sick feeling when there’s nothing you can do to take it back.
    I hope your tree’s health is good. I know it’s devastating, but the tree is still beautiful. Once your eyes adjust and the fresh cuts fade to the color of the trunk, you’ll be better able to imagine what to do with the void. But it takes a while to grieve.

    • annamadeit says:

      Thanks Megan – it’s an awful, awful feeling. I’m sorry you have to be next to people like that. At least this was a one-time thing…I would hate to know that I’m likely to see this kind of treatment over and over again. 😦 I figured out what to do with the void for next Halloween. I’m going to make an effigy of the Mad Pruner, and hang him from the top branches. But yes, this will take me a while to get over…

  13. Oh no, I’m so sorry! Was this arborist ISA certified? I’m wondering because it looks like he didn’t cut back to the branch collar in the photo you show – it’s a fine line between cutting too far (flush cut) and leaving too much (stub cut). Even so, many arborists don’t know garden plants in general, thus the misguided attempt to give shade plants more light. Quick, plant some wax myrtle or Azara to fill the hole – fast growing evergreen screen, quickly to 20+ ft.

    • annamadeit says:

      Thanks Julie – stupid me, but I didn’t even check. He came recommended, so I just figured he knew what he was doing. But, you are right. He did several things wrong (which I pointed out as gently as I could). Besides the stub cut in the photo you commented on, he also cut another one too close. I’m praying for this poor tree’s recovery. Silly, but I stood a while tonight, and hugged it, whispering “I’m so sorry” to it, over and over again… I feel so bad for it… Fingers crossed it doesn’t die of the shock.

  14. Eve says:

    Oh, honey. I’m so sorry. Unfortunately, I had a similar experience a while ago with, ironically, with a sequoia tree in the back corner of my garden. It is “shared” between 3 properties, and one of the neighbors asked if it would be ok to just raise the bottom a little bit so their yard, which is dominated by the tree, could get little more light. I came home to a 20 foot rise, and an open view of the back of their house. Alas, none of the 3 homeowners had been home, and all of us were traumatized. It took us all some time to make peace with this new reality. One garden got a trellis with evergreen clematis, one (fortunately not me) needed to resort to a trough of timber bamboo, and I planted a few fast growing fragrant rhododendrons. We are each recovering in our own way, and you will too. Hugs to you.

    • annamadeit says:

      Thanks Eve, I’m sorry you had to go through that too… It really is a harrowing experience. Once I get over the shock, I will try to turn it into some kind of advantage. Don’t know quite what, quite yet, but I think it will be something akin to a mobile, or something. Scale is a big issue and very much of the essence if I’m going to pull something like that off – it is such a massive tree!

  15. I love what Kris had to say, and couldn’t do better…other than to say while I’m no fan of garden art your “Mobile? Sculpture?” comment has me wondering if super creative you couldn’t make something beautiful to go there…

  16. annamadeit says:

    I know… I’m no big fan of garden art either. After I make an effigy of Chainsaw Rambo, and dangle him from a rope, hung by a noose from the leafy heights above for a few months, maybe I will feel ready to think of it as a fun challenge. But first I want to be sure the tree will recover. That poor thing – I bet it wonders why it was punished in such a dastardly manner…

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