Just yesterday, I was asked if I would help with a Rotary Club tree planting project at a local school. I am quite excited about this opportunity! As far as I'm concerned, schools generally lack ambiance these days. When I was a kid, it seemed like there were more trees on playgrounds. I fondly remember playing house inside the "rooms" created by the heaving roots of large poplar trees, which formerly resided on the playground of Rossman Elementary School in Detroit Lakes, MN. I also remember a small courtyard that used to dwell near the main entrance of Detroit Lakes Community High School. This circular space, completely enclosed by hedging, housed a pink-flowering tree. I remember playing within the "Secret Garden" as a child, attending my siblings' school events. I do not recall whether or not the courtyard was there when I was in high school. I only remember how magical it felt to me when I was "knee high to a grasshopper."
As I listen to people debate the root causes of school violence, I feel like we have become expert finger pointers and lousy idea generators. Whatever causes contribute to these crises, there are positive things that we all can do to try and improve the mental health of our children. I strongly believe that creating little sanctuaries within and outside of our schools can help. Now, I have no children, but I was once one. Because I grew up in the middle of nowhere, interacting with peers on a daily basis at school was a real adjustment for me. Trying to process my feelings after various, failed interactions was extremely stressful. Most of the time, long walks with my dogs helped me get my head right. Everyone needs a place to escape to now and then. Why not create beautiful spots at our schools, where children can find themselves and the peace that lies within them?
As I contemplate which trees are the right trees for a playground setting, I keep looking backwards with my mind's eye. The trees I loved as a kid are widely viewed as "junk trees" now. Willows, Boxelders and Cottonwoods would all have made my crayon scrawled list of favorites. Why? Because they were climbable! They supported swings and tree houses. Their low branches were prime real estate for rookie tree climbers with short legs. Oaks would have also made the cut. Acorns make such wonderful pawns in childhood games. Certainly, they can be weaponized as well; but taunting assailants must have excellent aim in order to use them effectively. Even as an adult, I have been known to engage in a campground game of "Stick-Nut" with my husband. Sure, we could just bring a proper bat and ball, but that wouldn't be as fun. Crabapples (with fruit) would also have been on my kid list. What other ingredient could possibly fill their void in a tasty pot of mud soup? I'm no psychologist, but I firmly believe that a healthy imagination is critical to mental health; especially for children.
There has been much talk lately about the benefits of diversity in our landscapes. Most of this talk is coming from educated folks, such as municipal arborists and university professors. That is likely because they have personally witnessed the downfalls of monoculture in horticulture. What exactly am I talking about? I'm talking about Autumn Blaze Maples, folks.
We really try to emphasize the merits of diversification to our customers, so that they will be able to enjoy the trees they plant for decades. Dutch Elm Disease and Emerald Ash Borers have wrecked that plan for a good many people. Trees are supposed to transcend the generations. That is why our fore fathers planted them- for us. What we hear a lot nowadays is, "do you have any trees that don't drop anything?" I hate to say it, but that kind of hurts our ears. Trees are supposed to drop things! The things they drop help improve the structure of the soil and feed the little creatures that we share our spaces with. Never mind, ensuring the survival of their parent species' for future generations. In order for diversification to work, we need to be a bit more receptive to some really great options that produce seeds and maybe grow at a slightly slower pace. Fall color isn't everything, either. I can honestly say that the messiest trees in my yard are sugar maples and their helicopters are the least of my worries. All maples, even seedless ones, have large leaves that fall very gradually...over a very L-O-N-G period of time. I think of the four seasons as: winter, spring, road construction and raking!
My name is Connie Kratzke. I have worked with Kahnke Brothers for 16 years. During this period, I have done everything from watering the plants to designing our website. My role at the nursery involves selling stock, managing inventory, marketing plants and overseeing the production of shrubs and perennials. Sometimes I sit at a desk and other times I can be found in a Bobcat. During my career here, I have become a MNLA Certified Professional. I am also an at large member of the Minnesota Grown Promotion Group/Minnesota Grown Advisory Committee. Currently, I serve as City Arborist for Silver Lake, Minnesota, and a member of their planning commission. My focus is on helping our clients succeed with their landscaping efforts. Education is a huge factor influencing that success. Keeping it real is my strategy. Through sharing my experiences at the nursery and at home, I hope to debunk myths and eliminate concerns. At the same time, I want people to be aware of what doesn't work. Living things are somewhat unpredictable, but they all have basic needs. Understanding how to fill those needs while simultaneously achieving landscape goals is a process that I want to share with as many people as possible, because I truly enjoy it.