Front Yard And Parkway Tree Planning - 2019/2020

As part of my 2020 prep for the yard, my mind has started to wandering to tree planting and specifically thinking about tree planting in the front yard and parkway.   Above is a schematic that shows off some of the existing trees and my current (aspirational) thinking of what sort of moves I could make in 2020.  But, before I jump into the specifics of that drawing up above, let's look at the current situation.

Let's start with our parkway tree situation.  Below is a shot from Google Streetview that shows off our one large Norway Maple parkway tree, the location of the 'old driveway' and this other tree that is just behind the sidewalk that I'm pretty sure is a Mulberry tree.  This Streetview image is a few years old and is of the house that was on site BEFORE we built, but the driveway location is pretty close to where the current driveway is located.  You can see the stretch of parkway between the driveway and the large Maple tree.  Keep that thought for a moment.  Also note the Mulberry tree (which has been cleaned up quite a bit) in a location that is right *behind* the sidewalk.



I've covered this Mulberry tree before on the blog:  when it showered all of its leaves one morning.

Also, for record-keeping purposes, here's the driveway going in a few years ago.

Let's talk about parkway trees on our block first.  Here's another look (below) from Google Streetview that shows off the view down our block.  It shows off these HUGE, mature (and awesome) parkway trees that line the block.  They're majestic and create a ceiling above the street as they come together and touch each other.  These trees weren't planted yesterday, right?  They had time to grow.  Our large Maple parkway tree is just like the ones you see below:  big and mature.  That's good.  But, we'll come back to this concept in a moment.



Now, let's move on to the concept of a tree placed *right behind* the sidewalk - on the property-owner's side.  This is QUITE COMMON on our block, too.  With the help of Google Streetview, I can show you all a few examples.   Here's the house across the street showing a tree planted right against the sidewalk and another one a few feet back:


Further up the block, there are many more that are planted RIGHT on the sidewalk, too.


And further up the block, there are a few more diverse species including some River Birch and even a couple of conifers that are planted up close to the sidewalk.


Which is interesting and something that our large Mulberry tree conforms to in terms of being planted right behind the sidewalk.

The reason for talking about these 'property-side' trees is that I'm pretty sure that these large, mature trees planted close to the sidewalk also contribute greatly to the 'appearance' of our block with multiple, large mature trees.  These don't count *technically* as parkway trees, but they're pretty close, right?

Alright...now that I've shared all of that background, let's get back to our yard in particular.  Here, again (below) is the schematic from the top of this post showing off my current planning for trees in our front yard.


Let's first cover off on the existing trees.  From top left of the image - in clockwise fashion:
That's six trees in our front yard currently.  But, what happens when we have some trouble with the large trees?  They're not going to last forever.  When we look at some of the other houses on our block I see some parkway trees that have been replaced and they have smaller trees.  See below:


We were in this situation before.  We lived in Elmhurst on a street with mature parkway trees.  We had a Norway Maple tree that was tall and proud.  Until a storm came and busted it apart.  I had to fight with the City of Elmhurst to let them try to allow me to keep it.  I ended up hiring an arborist to come out and rod and cable the tree together in an attempt to keep the tree from going down.

Guess what?  Seven years later, that tree is still standing and doing well.  This Google Streetview image was collected in 2019 and look at this beauty of a tree:


Now, I'm wondering if the best defense against losing my large, mature parkway - and 'behind the parkway' trees is a good offense.  Meaning...my thinking is about planting what I'm calling "backfill" trees.

For parkway trees, that's not technically *my* property - it is owned by the Village of Downers Grove and they have a parkway tree program where they'll plant trees for you.  It is a great program that has some baseline ground-rules:

Parkway Tree program from the Village of Downers Grove

Have to be six feet from the driveway and 40 feet from existing parkway trees.   Unfortunately, I don't have both of those measurements.  I can get a tree six to ten feet from the driveway.  But, it will only be 25 to 30 feet away from my existing parkway tree.  Scroll back up to that drawing and see the dark red circle where I've put a "potential new parkway tree".  That's where I'd like to plant another parkway tree.  The problem is that I've submitted the request to the Village.  But, the location doesn't comply with their regulations.  I get that.  Makes total sense.

But, I want to play offense.  And that means that I'm thinking that I should just 'go rogue' and plant a small tree in that location and let it grow up in the shadow of my Norway Maple tree.  That way, I'll start with a small tree, but also be able to enjoy the 'larger' current tree.  If/when my large parkway tree goes down, I'll be in a position to have another tree that has had a few years to establish itself.   I will then (possibly) avoid the situation you see above with just a tiny, parkway tree.

What do you think would happen if someone planted a tree themselves on the parkway?   Would the Village even notice?  They've done a good job with evolving their parkway tree program to enhance the streetscape of the Village of Downers Grove with a diverse set of tree species in their program.  Here's the list of trees from their official document:



Maples, Lindens and even Hybrid Elms are available.  They list Catalpas, Ginkos and Silver Lindens in the "limited availability" section.  We have a pair of Lindens that I am currently espalier'ing and we had a nice Ginko tree back in Elmhurst that Nat's parents gifted me for my Kellogg graduation.  I like both of those trees.

If I was to buy my own tree, it seems that it would be smart to conform to their listed species, right?  The list doesn't specifically call out columnar form, but wouldn't that be nice?  Using a columnar form of a tree from a list like this one from Pretty Purple Door?  Columnar Ginko like this Skytower Ginko?  Or a columnar Oak tree?

Planting a tree in this spot gives us a nice parkway tree, but also plays offense.

Same thing with a few of the other trees I've called out on the drawing at the top of this post.  Posting it below again for reference:



I'm thinking the same thing with 'backfill' under the Mulberry tree out front.  What about planting another tree between the Mulberry and the Bald Cypress on the northside of our front yard - north of our driveway?

And same with the 'backfill' tree underneath the Maple tree that is out front of our wrap-around porch?  If that tree goes, we'll be awfully sad.  I'm thinking that I should get a small tree in the ground close to that bed that can serve as the eventual 'successor' to the Maple tree.

That's three 'backfill' trees that I'm thinking I should consider in the front yard.

There's one more tree - in red - just below the driveway of the drawing.  That's a 'potential framing' tree that would sit in the pocket between the driveway and sidewalk.  Over the years, I've considered extending the bed from our house, down the property line on the southside all the way to the bed where the Saucer Magnolia is located.  Adding a tree like this 'behind' the sidewalk would create another small bed by the sidewalk.  And...it would be in keeping with the nature of our block - where homeowners 50 years ago planted trees close to the sidewalk, too.

Adding those three backfill and the one framing tree would bring our front yard up to ten front-yard trees.  That feels like a good number to me.  What about the columnar flowering Japanese Cherry Tree that I came across a few days ago?

Who knows...maybe one of these could even be an Oak tree.  Remember what they say (Or...what Washington Irving) said:
"He who plants an oak looks forward to future ages, and plants for posterity. Nothing can be less selfish than this. He cannot expect to sit in its shade, or enjoy its shelter; but he exults in the idea that the acorn which he has buried in the earth shall grow up into a lofty pile, and shall keep on flourishing, and increasing, and benefiting mankind, long after he shall have ceased to tread his paternal fields."
Oak tree seems appropriate for one of these backfill locations.     I'll try to go through the same process - at a high level - of the backyard and our southside sideyard to conclude the tree planning for the next few years.

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