168th Place near 83rd Avenue
Jamaica Hills, Queens
Two Japanese maples
8 years old
Medicine has been in my family for generations. My brother works in an E.R. in Massachusetts, my sister is a pediatrician in Portland, my mother was a midwife and my father was a doctor. So I named the two trees after the twin saints Cosmas and Damian, who were healers. Officially they’re the patron saints of physicians, pharmacists, chemists, surgeons, midwives — and barbers.
My father died in the spring of 2006. He was cremated in Peru, but a cousin of mine brought up some of his ashes, and I sprinkled them around the base of the trees.
This year it’s exciting because the trees are finally touching each other. They’re forming an arch over the walkway. Trees are amazing. They grow old with you.
Dan Evans (and Lulu Lolo)
116th Street, near Second Avenue
33 years old
We moved into this house in the winter of ’74, and my closest friend Tom visited us the following spring and wanted to give us something to celebrate. At that time the backyard was pretty abandoned.
Tom and I always revered a book by Nikos Kazantzakis about St. Francis, a book that sort of guided our lives. At the beginning of that book, St. Francis speaks to an almond tree, and it bursts into bloom, so we wanted to get an almond tree. But when we went to the nursery at Canal and Church, the guy said we were nuts, that almond trees don’t grow in New York. So he sold us a crab apple.
Three or four years ago, Tom was visiting again, and we talked about building something in that space behind the crab apple tree. St. Francis and his brother Leo used to have a little hut that they lived in, so we ended up building a little chapel, a copy of St. Francis’ hut. We call this the Backyard of St. Francis, and that’s the Crab Apple Chapel.
Davis Avenue, near Harding Avenue
Throgs Neck, the Bronx
Seven years old
When we first moved here 18 years ago, there were two big pines on either side of the walkway. But they started leaning in on the house, and we had to cut them down. My mother, who had a real green thumb, started to feel a loss, so she decided to plant another tree.
Mom planted this little tree in 2001. In 2004 she suddenly became ill with a very rare type of cancer. It was a big shock, because she was such a tough little lady.
She passed away in 2004, and my father continued to take care of her tree. I think for him it was a very practical thing. Taking care of the tree she loved was a continuation of taking care of her.
My father died 15 months later. For the last few years I’ve been a little indifferent, and overwhelmed, because the garden needed a lot of work. But a few months ago I took my first landscaping class at the Botanical Garden, where I work. When I pruned the maple, I did it with a little trepidation. I had never pruned a tree.
So when the leaves all burst out last week, I was thrilled. I hadn’t killed it.
Sometimes I look at the tree and I get emotional. I can hear my mom’s voice saying, “See, I knew you’d appreciate it.”
Adelphi Street, near DeKalb Avenue
Fort Greene, Brooklyn
That pear tree has been assaulted by both the gods and man. It’s so misshapen because it was hit by lightning right when I moved in 11 years ago. It was a really pretty tree back then, but after the lightning hit, the top was burned to a crisp; it looked like a black ice cream cone. Then a few years later one of the branches was taken out when a friend of mine got on the swing attached to it and the branch came right down. So now it’s an ugly tree, but it’s lovable.
A few years back my mom came out to visit, and when she saw all of the pears, she said, “Let’s can them.” So that winter I had cans and cans of pears to eat.
Herb Zohn (and Hely Lima)
Riverside Drive, near 73rd Stree
Upper West Side
30 years old
When the chestnut tree blooms up here on our terrace, it means the coming of spring. The tree has been here almost since we moved in more than 30 years ago. It’s like a member of the family.
Sometimes in the summer we get crickets up here, along with carpenter bees and birds making their nests. It’s not what you would expect to find up on the 17th floor.
About five years ago the management decided to redo the floors on all the terraces. So we had to lower all of our trees down the front of the building. The boxes got all smashed up, and it cost enough, but there was no question about it — we had to keep the trees. Once the floors were finished, they lifted the trees back up all 17 stories.
Neal Mayer (and David Quart)
78th Street, near 34th Avenue
Jackson Heights, Queens
69 years old
We were renting in Manhattan, and our friend Randy suggested we look out here in Jackson Heights. This was in 2003. So we came out in January, and it was all gray and gloomy, and when we first saw the apartment it was a little dark, and the courtyard wasn’t in great shape either. Then we looked out of the bedroom windows and saw this great big oak.
It was planted by Fiorello La Guardia in 1939 to commemorate the opening of the co-op complex Dunolly Gardens. Back then, the courtyard was all broken concrete, weeds, a few shrubs and, of course, the big oak. The tree represented what the garden could be, and we didn’t want to lose it.
This year residents of the building raised $2,800 at a flea market, and we’re going to use the money to pay an arborist to look at it. We’ll do anything we can to save this tree.