Dogwoods are dying in our lovely Capital City, and the heartache it’s causing is very real. In most cases, I can help you replace an ailing tree with a better choice. All I have to do is find out which of the attributes are most important to you, then find a different tree that matches those characteristics. With Dogwoods, I can find many choices that are small growing, native, valuable for wildlife, easy to care for, or has white blooms in the spring, just like the Dogwood. The one feature I cannot replicate in a different tree is the emotional attachment you have to that beautiful Dogwood you’ve lost. Over my years as a gardener, I’ve learned emotions can far outweigh aesthetics in landscaping, and I’d like to address that concerning these delicate trees.
Dogwood blooms were my grandma’s favorite flower each spring. One Christmas, when I was young, I made her a Dogwood flower necklace out of Fimo dough that she wore on special occasions for the rest of her life. My grandma was one of those quintessential grandparents who spoiled me and loved me. She always made sure I knew how proud she was of the man I’d become and all that I’d accomplished in my life. Although she left this world many years ago, I can feel Grandma’s unconditional love wash over me when I take the time to look closely again at one of those flowers I studied so closely when I made her that special necklace, all those years ago.
If you have a story like mine, I know just how much it pains you to see these trees dying off, one by one, from our gardens and neighborhoods. The awful truth is, our native Dogwood trees have been on long decline, and it appears to only be getting worse. The causes are complicated, and I think best enunciated by Leon County’s own Stan Rosenthal in a recent article found here: Click Here to Read the Details. The bottom line is that we must accept a future with few or no Dogwoods in our area.
I hear from people on a regular basis about how truly sad they are to be losing these springtime flowers. I think it shows us how important gardens and plants are to us all, even though we may not realize it until they are missing from our lives. Perhaps in a decade or so, I won’t have this yearly spring reminder of my grandmother, held aloft by the branches of a Dogwood tree. Of course, I have other reminders of her, from family photos on the wall to a favorite stuffed animal she made me, that still sits on display. But the loss of this reminder is still tough, and it is teaching me how important it is to actively keep memories alive.
When we lose a reminder of someone who has passed, it can feel like we are losing them for a second time. I’ve decided to take this loss in a different way- as a call to action, to remember, and celebrate my Grandma every day. I think I’ll keep an eye out for a piece of artwork I can hang prominently in my house with a Dogwood bloom front and center. I bet I can find one at the next Art In The Park event downtown. She would have loved to walk alongside me in search of the perfect piece.
*This article was written by Jonathan Burns (Tallahassee Nurseries Outdoor Manager, FNGLA Florida Certified Horticulture Professional)