John has been itching to fell most of the poplars around Struan Farm for years now, virtually all of which were planted by his father Maurie. He's made an exception for the line of special poplars right out from our house, which he considers superior specimens.
Our deal is that we both need to agree when it comes to taking down any mature trees on the property. While Maurie may have planted too many trees too closely together sixty years on, I think John's a bit too keen to fell big trees that were planted originally as windbreaks, or to stabilise hillsides, and we'll have problems down the road with erosion when and if he takes them out. I also consider trees the native birds use throughout the seasons, not something John always notices. We continue to plant both native and European trees around the property, but some take longer than others to get established and we're not getting any younger.
But my main issue is the aftermath: ugly stumps. They are visual scars on the landscape in my book. It takes years for them to rot. John doesn't believe in stump grinders, although he will pull out a rotten stump with the tractor when it gets to that stage or have the digger dig them out when it's here for other work projects.
So it is with some apprehension that I agree to trees coming down, poplars or otherwise. If they fall over, or are in danger of doing so, that's different.
John has had a cluster of "Lombardy-esque" poplars in his sights for awhile. They can be seen from our house, out in an area we call the "Bull Paddock." They are diseased and dying, most likely from poplar rust, which tends to infect this variety of tree here in NZ. But they also provide line and texture to the landscape, contrast.
I've known these trees were on borrowed time for some time now, and that expired this past week. Now that several are felled we can see that they are indeed dying, or are already technically dead, rotting from the inside out. One large tree was completely hollow inside.
Poplar doesn't make good firewood, so these trees are destined for the burn pile (permits are required at this time of the year). Nephew Mike has his hands full for awhile with this project, John helps him with the felling since these are large trees.
I did some research on the poplar rust issue. It turns out that from the 1950s onwards, poplars and willows were used to stabilise slopes in the Central North Island. (Hence my concern about erosion when they're taken out may be justified.) Between 1950 and the late 1970s 200 poplar varieties were imported into New Zealand from Europe, the US and Asia for research and breeding. In the mid-1970's two poplar rusts devastated mature stands of the trees around the country. Resistant strains were developed but there are still strains of rust that affect these trees.
The Robertson family had Lombardy poplars planted along an avenue on both sides of the main road "in the day," until the trees succumbed to rust. I've had two old photos scanned so you can see what they looked like, although the image quality isn't great. There were even poplars inside the front entrance gate long, long ago. People still remember driving along this stretch of State Highway 3 and seeing those trees, often that's how they know where we are.