Years ago, on the land now owned by Milewide Nursery, cowboys were running cattle. Their lingering remains can still be seen here and there in man-made spring trenches and old, fallen-down fences. What we call the ‘Cowboy Shade’ was once a fenced-in area they used to corral and brand the cattle under the oak canopy above. This space is now used as shade for Milewide’s potted maple trees, it spreads over an acre plus, enough to hold several thousand maples. Out there you will find Japanese maples of several different phenotypes, as well as paperbark maples, and other species like dogwoods, white oaks, witch hazel, and hydrangeas. Considering its size, watering the Cowboy Shade is a task we are fortunate enough to have on an automatic system. However, the boss certainly threw all caution to the redwood wind when he invested in his maples – currently, we have about 5000 Japanese maples, in diverse age ranges. Each year several hundred are selected to graduate into larger pots so that they can to grow to their potential. The older Japanese maples, in particular, have proved their worth in size, and created a spacial predicament in the Cowboy Shade.
Through adolescence the maple trees are lined up next to each other and as a result of the crowded environment, many morph from their natural growth formations. It is very important for us to separate the trees as they get crowded and this becomes a problem when producing such large quantities in a limited amount of space. Realizing this our nursery manager, Ash, devised a plan that would utilize less space and honor the maple’s affinity for breathing room: The Maple Garden. About two years ago the largest maples were ready to enter adulthood and stretch out their delicate limbs in the new space. Inadvertently, it turned into a major potting project that required twelve pairs of hands and an entire week to accomplish the vision. Today it sits atop a quaint hill in peaceful solitude just across the road from the Cowboy Shade. Knowing Ash, I think it must have stemmed from some sort of deep reflection amongst the maples. It’s literally become a meditation garden of maple trees, and also my favorite place on the Milewide grounds.
Whenever the opportunity ever arises, I give an eager hand to water the Maple Garden. It is a precious little world of deep reds, fair oranges, vibrant greens and canary yellows. The power of walking through the circular configuration with a hose is completely different than the experience of turning on an automatic watering system. The plot is dead silent, except for a single stream of water and your own footsteps. Taking a moment to saturate each pot commands daydreams, distances, and prospects. It is an instant that spreads into a minute; the effort of troubling with the hose eases, and becomes a workless progression of hours. It becomes an image of the watcher’s hopes, as if in some tranquil trance plans travel and flow through the water. Trees and all things that move have a unanimous hush, even when the wind falls through the valley. It’s a practice that devours two hours if you want to give each and every maple attention.
The consolation I get from this particular maple patch is the sense of order in a chaotic clutter of tilting trees trunks and intersecting branches. It is a collection that imposes a timeline, signifies existence, and is a vital piece of what makes Milewide unique. There is a conventional notion that art is merely found inside museums and galleries. A wise friend once suggested that art cannot be aligned with any specific form yet it must be aligned with a range of sensations. Each time I enter the Maple Garden, whether it be to water, sit, read, write or just walk through to the barn, a different emotion develops. I’d like to suggest that art has been manifested in our Maple Garden, and extend to you a similar challenge: to unearth a piece of art in nature. It is the only dirt-cheap pleasure I know hat’s always free of disappointment, so enjoy yourself and remember to breathe.