I’m not the type to get excited over trees, especially trees I haven’t seen, but the Trees Atlanta annual sale showed me how riveting saplings in buckets can be. Micah and stumbled out of the house at 8 (we’d gotten home at 2 AM from presenting at BarCamp Atlanta), and sped over to Piedmont Park for the sale. Our goal: snag a pretty, verdant, rugged, fast-growing tree for the front lawn. (You know, the kind that’s delicate yet indestructible and looks like it’s been there for years about fifteen minutes after it’s planted.) We didn’t quite get that tree, because it apparently doesn’t exist in what gardeners call “reality.”
Despite Atlanta being “The City in the Forest,” it’s hard to find many varieties of trees for sale. So, we and other locals flocked to Piedmont in ripped jeans and rent-a-trucks, armed with wheel barrows to battle over elms, oaks, and sequoias. “Get out of the car and find a tree!” I shouted to Micah. I slowed the car to a safe enough roll to let him exit, “I’ll get a parking spot near that fly fishing class.” Eyes narrowed, I stared at a group of men pretending to reel in trout, “Keep fishing, guys. Don’t even think about buying a beech tree.”
I parked, put on my Angry Biker jacket, and jogged towards the sale, casing everyone I passed: blue tracksuit, not a threat… plaid flannel, possible competition. By the time I got there, Micah had befriended a volunteer named Mike, who was showing off a dwarf magnolia. “Um, we’d like something a little bigger,” I said abruptly, watching an couple snatch a basswood. We walked towards a Tulip Poplar. “This will give you instant gratification,” Tree Mike said. We grabbed the poplar like junkies looking for a quick fix.
“Nice magnolia,” an elderly man said. We were staring at a Daphne Magnolia. “It’s gonna bud.” I turned to Tree Mike, “What goes with a Tulip Poplar?” He directed us to an 8-foot tall Redbud. “This’ll be red in fall, when the poplar’s turning yellow.” We nodded in approval, both realizing the Redbud probably wouldn’t fit in our Toyota Corolla without a serious haircut. “We’ll keep it in mind,” I said and grabbed an oakleaf hydrangea on the way out.
A few feet away, another volunteer, Steve, was telling a young shopper his favorite online nurseries. As a landscaper, Steve was in the know about ordering plants. We chatted about favorite websites. Steve told me about a nearby online hosta farmer who was open to the public one weekend a year. He also mentioned having a six-thousand-plant database that he’d been compiling for twelve years. “It’s not just climate zones, it’s also moisture zones,” he said proudly, giving me his card.
We wheeled our plants past a few young couples entering the sale. The next day, we got up early to plant the Tulip Poplar. “Looks a little crooked,” Micah said, fastening a yellow ribbon around the curving trunk and an upright bamboo stake, “but it’ll straighten out soon.” I admired the thin, leaf-covered stick jutting out of our lawn, “At least, we’ll get instant gratification, but let’s also buy a Redbud tree.”