When your backyard is practically a forest


AKRON, Ohio — Cars whiz by on a busy street that’s maybe 75 feet from Evie Martindale’s house. Yet Martindale’s backyard has the feel of being deep in the woods, not in a city neighborhood.

Martindale’s property in West Akron, Ohio, abounds with trees — probably 100, she guesses, representing 22 kinds. Some tower over her one-story house. Some grow in low clusters. Some intertwine their branches in a joyful tangle.

She can identify them all — hawthorn and mulberry, white cherry and smoke tree, pin oak and magnolia and Morheim spruce. The only exception is a tree with rounded leaves she discovered just this year, growing in an untamed section of the side yard. Already it is twice as tall as she, and then some.

“John and I were tree happy,” she said of her late husband, who died last year. “We had to keep planting trees, because we loved them.”

When the Martindales bought their house about 40 years ago, the property already had some mature trees, she said. But the couple just kept planting more.

There were the English field maples with their clustered leaflets the size of quarters, dug up from the land where the subdivision was built.

There was the weeping beech that has stretched to some 40 feet tall, with graceful limbs that arch over a trampled path and curl upward just above the ground.

There were the Japanese maples she and her husband planted in a friendly competition. “He said mine wouldn’t grow. I won. They both grew,” she recalled with a smile.

She appreciates them all, even the tree of heaven growing near the street. She knows she should cut down the scrappy invader, which has a reputation for growing in even the most inhospitable places. But she leaves it, because it helps hide her view of the street and buffer the noise.

Martindale said her love for trees and gardening came from her parents and suits her artistic side, which she expresses in painting as well as in plants. She shared her passion for growing things with her husband, a former Goodrich chemist who at one time served as president of the Men’s Garden Club of Akron, now Gardeners of Greater Akron. Their house and property were featured a few times on garden tours.

The house is nestled among mature trees. A white dogwood that’s around 40 feet tall shades the patio. A Queen Anne cherry stretches so high that she can’t even see the fruit on it, but the birds that frequent it tell her the cherries are there.

In front of the house is an elm tree that sprouted by surprise about 20 years ago, probably from a seed deposited by a bird. Despite the odds, it has managed to escape the ravages of Dutch elm disease.

Some of the trees were brought back from the Martindales’ travels — magnolias from the South, for example, and a beech dug from the West Virginia property that belonged to her daughter-in-law’s father. One of the trees is rare, a Franklinia that was planted before the Martindales bought the house and is struggling now.

A Northern Spy apple tree growing near the potting shed was a point of disagreement for the couple. Her husband wanted to cut it down because it blocked their view of the charming shed with its caramel glass windows, she said, but she couldn’t bring herself to do it. Now she estimates that tree is 60 years old.

Cutting down trees is hard for her. The Martindales removed two big ash trees in the front yard because the area was just too crowded, and “that’s unusual for us,” she said. When a poplar died about 20 years ago, they left a stump about 15 feet tall that still stands.

They had only one tree fall, an oak that missed their house and only dented the next-door neighbor’s gutter, she said.

People tell Martindale she’s lucky not to have suffered any serious damage from falling trees, but she thinks another force is at play. “I have faith,” she said.

Martindale does little to care for her trees, save having them trimmed sometimes. She said the fall leaves are a challenge, but at 90, she pays someone now to remove them.

She figures there’s something about the ground that encourages the trees’ growth, perhaps an underground sandstone layer the catches the water and keeps it in the soil.

Plants grow exuberantly on the property, which at two-thirds of an acre is larger than many city lots. Martindale rejects a precisely manicured look, preferring instead to let some parts of the yard grow in a more natural state.

She knows some of her neighbors prefer a more restrained appearance, but that’s just not her style.

“God has had a hand in here,” she said. “If anyone wants to complain, complain to God. He’s planted most of them.”

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