Shortly after posting Monuments and Trees (June 5), I had a note from Art Presson, the Superintendent of Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery. He wrote:
“We too have noticed how rarely grave stones get wacked by falling trees. Mysterious intervention is a possible explanation. We had a 125 year old oak come down on top of a very important bronze angel sculpture here that went on both sides of her, but the monument wasn’t even scratched.”
Taking care of the trees in a large, old garden cemetery is a particularly demanding job. The Green-Wood Cemetery covers 478 acres (for comparison,Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge has 175 acres; Swan Point covers roughly 200 acres). In a way, it is an arboretum of mature and maturing trees that shares the space with headstones and monuments.
A staff of arborists works with the woody vegetation: assessing the health of thousands of trees, tending the cemetery ‘forest’, removing hazard limbs and whole trees when necessary — these responsibilities take focus, skill, and a refined knowledge of woody plants, as well as a sensitivity to the nature of the cemetery’s function. The Green-Wood arborists take pride in their skill. According to Art, “When we take trees down my arborists are really competitive. They call their shots like they are shooting pool. They are remarkably accurate, which is a good thing with as tight as it gets with monuments here.”
How to interpret the tendency of falling trees and limbs to miss grave markers? I’m not sure. And I can’t speak for the arborists responsible for these garden cemeteries, though clearly, their professional skills and pride mesh to make tangible their respect for the nature of these places.
Have you any stories about the management of cemetery woody plants? Send them along, and let’s see what common threads may emerge.