Articles

TREE DOCTOR

If an oak is undernourished or a birch is bleeding to death tree consultant Earl Martin usually knows what to do. One of the few patients he ever lost was an elm he converted to a chimney

McKENZIE PORTER July 1 1951
Articles

TREE DOCTOR

If an oak is undernourished or a birch is bleeding to death tree consultant Earl Martin usually knows what to do. One of the few patients he ever lost was an elm he converted to a chimney

McKENZIE PORTER July 1 1951

TREE DOCTOR

If an oak is undernourished or a birch is bleeding to death tree consultant Earl Martin usually knows what to do. One of the few patients he ever lost was an elm he converted to a chimney

McKENZIE PORTER

WHEN he was laying out his grandiose estate at Niagara Falls in the middle Twenties the late Sir Harry Oakes summoned from Toronto a tall willowy contractor called Earl Martin who, to distinguish himself from forestrymen, nurserymen, gardeners, landscape artists and all the other craftsmen associated with trees, had assumed the impressive professional label of arboriculturist.

“When I hire labor,” said Oakes, “I expect my orders obeyed to the letter.”

“To the letter,” said Martin.

“I pay well and I want only the best.”

“You’ll get the best.”

“And no silly questions.”

“No questions.”

“Well,” said the millionaire, “you see that big elm tree?”

“Yessir.”

“I want you to bore a hole in it from the very bottom right up the centre of the trunk to the very top.”

“A hole from bottom to top,” said Martin gravely. “Very good, sir.”

During the next ten days, as his men burrowed like death watch beetles up the interior of the giant elm, Martin had plenty of time to speculate on the reasons for this costly and whimsical chore.

It is enough to say at this point that the job laid the financial foundations of a flourishing business. On this side of the border, few make more money than Earl Martin out of preserving, controlling and moving ornamental trees about as if they were knickknacks. At fifty, and no longer in need of the pompous arboriculturist tag to bolster his professional ego, Martin is president and proprietor of Cedarvale Tree Experts Eimited, of Toronto, Hamilton and Ottawa.

Greying now, but still a slender six feet two inches he makes a fat five-figure income out of pruning, spraying, bracing, feeding, stuffing, ventilating and transplanting thousands of trees a year. Although he started with thirty cents and a pair of borrowed clippers he now employs more than a hundred men, runs twenty-five trucks and owns winches, power saws and special equipment of his own design which will pluck a hundred-foot tree out of the ground like a flower.

Soft spoken and gentle to the point of meekness he directs crews working all over Ontario and Quebec from a five-floor suite of offices sunk cleverly beneath a blue-and-white shuttered bungalow on Toronto’s St. Clair Avenue.

Millionaires pay Martin thousands of dollars to plant mature trees on new estates and save them fifty years of waiting for saplings to grow. Martin digs rotten chunks out of ancient trees and fills the cavities as a dentist fills a tooth. Suburbanites tormented by urchins trampling over flower beds to steal apples or cherries call Martin in blossom time to spray the pollen with sulphur and ensure that the branches will be barren of fruit.

When the level of land around new homes is raised the excavated clay on top of the old turf smothers the roots of shade trees, so Martin sinks ventilation shafts through which oxygen and bacteria, essential to arborial health, may be breathed. If city trees look frail, municipalities ask Martin to bring along his pressure feeders and pump down to the roots chemical nourishments denied them through the unnatural overcrusting of God’s green earth by John McAdam’s black candy.

Telephone and hydro companies employ Martin to prune branches fouling their overhead lines. Martin’s men brace trees with almost invisible wire against the pressure of gales; immunize valuable trees from lightning with inconspicuous grounded conductor cables; and remove dead trees from densely populated districts without breaking a window by using the precision felling methods of high riggers in logging camps.

But Martin hates destroying a tree. The fact 'that Toronto has cleared more then twenty thousand trees off the city streets in the last five years is in his view barbarous. Unless urbanites awake to the comforting properties of trees in their midst, he says Canadian cities will become dried-out ovens in summer. He is a past president of the Men of the Trees Society of Canada and of the Canadian chapter of the National Shade Tree Conference of the United States, both voluntary organizations dedicated to the preservation of foliage in built-up areas.

Continued on page 43

Continued from page 24

Some people are lavish in their love for trees.

A few years ago Martin presented the late Senator Frank O’Connor with a bill for twelve thousand dollars after scouring the Niagara peninsula for sixty elms which he bought, dug up, hauled from widely scattered sites and replanted in avenues and copses on an estate at Agincourt near Toronto.

The late Mrs. David Dunlap, widow of the Hollinger Gold Mines millionaire, paid Martin twelve hundred dollars to build fifteen tons of concrete into the rotting core of a one hundred and twenty-five-foot elm which had been her husband’s pride and joy at Donalda Farms, seven miles northeast of Toronto.

On University of Western Ontario property in London stands a majestic elm which could have there before formal education began in Canada. Actually it grew’ in Woodbridge, one hundred and forty-five miles to the ease. Here it aroused the admiration of London’s Major Gerald Spencer. Marlin uprooted it and took it by road to London where it was planted on land eventually acquired by the university. It look two ttucks in tandem to tow the trailer, and the drivers picked up four tickets on the way for breach of road and load regulations.

Early this year when Toronto’s subway excavators threatened to devastate the Alexander Muir Parka memorial to the man who wiote The Maple Leaf Forever--Martin’s crews gathered up the best maple trees and moved them to a new site two miles away.

It was Martin who planted grown trees on the National War Memorial in Ottawa and laid out. the shady walks at the swank Seigneury Club in Que bec. Recently Martin filled cavities in a five-hundred-year-old oak growing in Riverview Drive, North Toronto, and increased by another hundred years the span of a living organism which was venerable when Champlain first looked on Georgian Bay. The tree’s owner, John McKee, was glad to pay Martin five hundred dollars.

In a back yard in Toronto’s overcrowded west end an elderly couple was equally glad to pay Martin ten dollars for necessary surgery on a Manitoba maple planted by their son, who nowlies beneath a white cross by the shores of the Sangro in Italy.

Although trees have brought affluence to Martin he finds in them more than dollars. Shrewd yet benign he doodles self-consciously in his paneled office and talks trees with a hint of mysticism. “They have personality, just like people,” he says. “Have you never seen a tree tusseling with the wind and thought it was laughing sort of exultantly? Sometimes I’ve seen trees drooping and imagined they were crying. Why, I’ve known trees to commit suicide, though the scientific term for it is girdling. When they get into unsuitable earth the rootlings coil around the main feeding members, cutting off the food supply by strangu lation and causing foliage to wither.”

One of Martin’s employees says: “He was once driving past a big oak he’d replanted a year or so before. It was having a severe struggle in a gale. And the boss shouted out: ‘Hold on,

old girl! Hold on there!’

Martin tells with an air of self-reproach of the time he was spraying sulphur on a chestnut tree’s blossom in a suburban garden to make it sterile because small boys were using the fallen fruit as catapult projectiles— with expensive consequences to neighborhood windows.

“An elderly women who lived across the street,” he says, “came out and cried: ‘Young man! Do you know

what you’re doing? You’re committing an abortion!’ ” Martin adds: “It’s

true, you know. But it’s often necessary. Unfortunately, apart from broken windows, many people slip on chestnuts in the fall and break their legs.”

The Bell Telephone Company always had a bad time getting householders’ permission to cut branches interfering with overhead wiring. Since Cedarvale Tree Experts took over the job in many Ontario cities the situation has been easier. Mai tin’s craftsmen have built up a reputation for improving the growth by skilled surgery. Now the Ontario Hydro and many municipal authorities use Cedarvale for line clearance.

Typical of the men who work for Martin is Alfred Sellars, an armored corps veteran who supervises spraying. When his squadron of tanks, training in England during the lecent -war, wirelessly ran through a hedge belonging to Sir Malcolm Campbell, he surpiised his comrades by angiily shouting “Vandalism!” In Italy they thought he was strange because he wouldn’t use olive-tree branches to camouflage his tank. “Those trees take generations to grow,” he said. Mrs. Sellars sometimes pretends she’s not with him because he’s always stopping at trees in the street and peering at the bark for the fungus of Dutch elm disease, the European red mite and other plagues.

Most Canadian cities, says Martin, grow a wide range of trees whose ancestors were imported by nostalgic European immigrants. There are two hundred and one tree varieties in Toronto. About half are such natives as red pine, hemlock, cedar, larch, birch, beech, balsam, ash, cherry and apple. Others like the sycamore, horse chestnut, Norway maple, linden, poplar, willow, hawthorn, sassafras and English oak were grown from imported cuttings or seed.

The most costly job on Martin’s books is tree transplanting. Only his wealthiest clients can afford the labor. Charges differ according to the size of a tree and the distance it has to be moved. But on the average, says Martin, it costs two hundred and fifty dollars to bring a mature tree into your front garden.

A Move for Mr. Ginkgo

Transplanting a tree is really no different from transplanting a flower: it has to he taken up without damage to t.lre roots, kept alive in transit and dug into a congenial new site. Martin always does this job in winter. The tree is less sensitive in its dormant phase. It can be dug out with a great ball of frozen earth adhering to its roots so there is a minimum of disturbance. The trailer carrying it can be rolled across frozen lawns without rutting expensive turf.

When Martin was moving Woodbridge’s giant elm to London for Major Gerald Spencer a thaw set in. Major Spencer had visions of two-foot ruts in the rich lawn surrounding the tree’s new site, so he ordered several heavy lumber planks. All night Martin and his men inched their two trucks and trailer over the lawns on planks which had to be picked up from behind the rear wheels and relaid in advance of the front ones. A winch hauled the trailer the last few yards up a steep slope.

The most valuable tree Martin ever moved was a Ginkgo, or maidenhair tree, of China and Japan. During road - widening operations he transferred it from one part of Toronto’s Queen’s Park to another. The Ginkgo is one of the few species alive in the world today which survived the ice age. Most trees combine in themselves both the male and female functions of procreation. But in the primeval Ginkgo species the sexes grow separately. Toronto’s Ginkgo is a male.

The nearest female stands in Hamilton, forty miles east. Thus, while more Ginkgos could be raised by planting shoots, there is not much chance of this one multiplying itself by seeding. Canada has less than two dozen Ginkgos, but there’s an avenue of them in Washington, D.C. Toronto’s was planted in 1882 by a man named George Stevens, who probably got it from the Orient via Kew Gardens in England.

Although it was the patronage of millionaires which gave Martin hisstart he says seventy-five percent of liis clients today are middle-class suburbanites. The majority of his bills range from fifty dollars to two hundred. There are still plenty of Bay Street tycoons, however, who pay him up to five thousand dollars a year to care for their avenues and spinneys.

Most people are ignorant about trees, even if they love them, says Marlin. A common mistake is sawing off a limb too near the end, leaving a long leafless stump. The natural role of the leaves is to breathe off moisture drawn up through the roots. Finding no outlet the sap withdraws from the stump into the trunk and other branches. This causes the stump to decay. Disease sets in and spreads elsewhere.

Sometimes, especially in the case of birch and the nut trees, the sap pours out of the wound and the tree literally bleeds to death. “Amputations,” says Martin, “should always be made close to the trunk or the junction of a good stout branch.”

Martin says, “Like man and beast a tree is dependent on food foi its life. In the natural state much of this food comes from the decomposition of leaves which the tree sheds around itself eveiy fall. In cities, however, householders sweep up the leaves for the sake of a tidy lawn, thereby starving the tree. Thousands of city trees die every year through lack of nourishment. But we also save thousands by feeding the roots artificially through our special pressure pumps.”

Roots of a tree rarely grow deeper than five feet. Their spread approximates almost exactly the spread of the branches. When Martin’s men trim off roots to make a tree portable they trim off an equal number of branches. If they didn’t the roots would not be able to cope with the demand for food and the tree would die.

One reason why trees cannot be moved in summer is that they die of thirst en route. The roots of an average oak in leaf suck up two hundred gallons of water a day, containing potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron, sulphur, nitrogen, phosphorus, oxygen, and other vital chemicals. The chemicals remain within the tree promoting growth, but the water is evaporated through the leaves. In summer transit the leaves continue to breathe off water hut since no more is coming up through the roots tire tree withers.

A Crusade For an Elm

Some U. S. experts have found they can shift a tree in full bloom by spraying the leaves with wax, which seals the water inside. After the tree is planted the natural growth of the leaves and the weather crack and remove the wax. Martin plans to experiment with this method because a tree in full leaf has a good market value among people planting for shade in bare back yards.

When a client wants a driveway of matching oaks, chestnuts, poplars, lindens or any other popular species one of Martin’s men scours Ontario and Quebec for the right units. Usually they are bought from farmers for ten to twenty-five dollars.

Martin has to go farther and farther afield in search of mature trees for transplanting. A lot of the open country close to Toronto is now worked by wealthy farmers who refuse to sell trees. Sometimes he goes two hundred miles north to buy a tree which will match others he’s bringing in from a hundred miles west or east.

On his trips Martin often spots a tree in need of attention. “I once saw a lovely tree on a summer estate near Lake Simcoe,” he says. “It was drooping and I knew the roots were girdling. I told the owner, but he thought I was soliciting business and got rid of me. That tree died. I think the owner felt guilty because he called me to attend to others. I didn’t go.”

On No. 2 Highway, a few miles west of Toronto, there is a magnificent elm which Martin calis “the tree with a thousand limbs.” This tree is threatened by proposed road-widening operations. Martin is trying to persuade provincial highway authorities to divide the road and leave the tree in the middle.

Martin, the youngest of eleven children, was born on a farm near Orangeville, Ont. In his teens he went to Toronto and worked in a munitions factory producing shells for World War One. There he met an Ameiican who in peacetime worked for a New York firm of tree surgeons. After the war Martin got a job with the firm and stayed two years.

Back in Toronto he was out of work and down to his last thirty cents when he borrowed clippers and did odd jobs pruning trees in the Cedarvale district. He began to build a reputation for tree surgery. In the early Twenties the late Jethro Crang, a wealthy property owner, mentioned him to Sir Albert Gooderham, the distiller, who gave him a job. Martin did work for other estate owners and soon was traveling around Ontario as his business expanded. He became a member of the Gardeners’ and Florists’ Association. In Ottawa he worked for Senator Cairine Wilson and J. R. Booth. In C-obourg he groomed grounds for wealthy Pittsburgh and Philadelphia families at their summer homes on Lake Ontario.

Sir Edward Kemp introduced him to Sir William Mulock. Mulock passed him on to Hamilton B. Wills, who built the home that is now Shadowbrook Hospital for alcoholics. Wills mentioned him to Harry Oakes, who was playing around with a million-dollar estate at Niagara Falls as a boy plays with a model railway.

“Bring a gang down,” said Oakes. Martin hired ten men and borrowed money from the bank to pay their wages. They cleared out dead trees, sprayed insect-plagued trees. The work went on 'for weeks with no mention of money. Martin was broke.

Every morning Harry Oakes came out in a bush shirt and half boots with an axe over his shoulder and said: “Give me something to do.” Martin put him on the other end of the cross saw he was working. One morning he said: “Mr. Oakes, I need money to

meet my payroll.” Oakes said: “Why didn’t you say so?” and made out a cheque for ten thousand dollars on account.

Oakes consulted Martin on the landscaping of several smaller houses for his servants. It was summer-a poor time to transplant full-grown trees close to the houses—so Oakes had the houses transplanted close to the trees. He said to one contractor: “I don’t

like that house here; move it over there.” When the contractor protested, “Mr. Oakes, this will be the fourth time I’ve moved that house,” Oakes fired him.

Asbestos Would Have Saved It

The grounds were pitted with basement excavations and Oakes wondered what to do about them. Martin sug gested lily ponds and Oakes thought he was a genius.

Martin was working on a bird sanctuary when Oakes began to brood about a large heating plant which marred the landscape. He called for Martin and said: “You see that elm

tree?”

“Yessir.”

“Well I want you to bore a hole from . . .”

Martin knew better than to start, asking questions and his men went to work. As they worked he noticed contractors laying hundreds of yards of underground pipe from the new heating plant.

Eventually the pipe line was connected to the hole in the bottom of Martin’s tree.

“See the idea?” said Oakes gleefully. “A chimney! A chimney in disguise!”

A few weeks later smoke was pouring out of the top of the giant elm as if it were a Pittsburgh stack.

“If only he’d told me,” says Martin today, “everything would have been okay. I could have lined the tree with asbestos and it would have survived. But the smoke and heat killed it in a few weeks. And if there’s anything in this world I hate to see it’s a good tree lost.”