An hour in a Wellesley garden: Rotary Club donates tulip tree saplings for the town’s 4th graders

You know what Wellesley could use? About 500 tulip trees, that’s what. If we gave every 4th grader in town a 12″ deciduous sapling from the magnolia family with instructions to plant them, it’s possible to imagine that a few years from now we’d see 12-foot high trees with cheerful blooms dotting the town.

Wellesley Rotary Club, trees for Arbor Day
Many Rotary Club members were on hand to rally eager volunteers as they bagged up over 500 tulip tree saplings. Every 4th grade student in the Wellesley Public Schools will receive one, with planting instructions.

The Rotary Club, as it has for the past 25 spring seasons, has asked kids to dig in and help make the dream a reality. In celebration of Arbor Day, and as a way to help keep the town’s designation as a Tree City intact, dozens of volunteers bagged up over 500 saplings for distribution to the 4th graders. The yearly project is done in partnership with the Department of Public Works and has made thousands of saplings available to kids.

Suzy Jordan, town horticultural technician, will next week visit classrooms, set everyone up for success with a lesson about how to plant the saplings, and pass out a tulip tree sapling to each student. “It takes several years until they start forming the tulips,” Jordan said. “They’re a cup shaped flower, just like a tulip. These will be yellow with a little bit of orange.”

Wellesley Rotary Club, Arbor Day, tulip tree sapling
Wellesley Rotary Club, Tulip tree sapling. I removed the plastic bag before planting.

With 30 years and a little luck, those skinny sticks the kids take home can reach a mature size of 120 feet, with a 40-foot spread. If the hardy hardwood can avoid pests like aphids, or verticillium wilt, a soil-borne fungus disease that attacks tree roots, tulip trees can live for up to 500 years. Luckily, tulip trees have a good track record of disease resistance, a major factor when Jordan is deciding which variety to purchase.

The Rotary Club donates the funds each year to buy the trees. Last year it was pin oaks. Other varieties they’ve sent out into the world include sweet gum, persimmon, and spruce.

Tulip Tree, Wellesley College
Tulip Tree. Credit: Wellesley College

Jordan let me take one home, which I planted right away in the area of my yard I’ve given over to No-Mow May (more on that in future posts). I dug a 12″-deep hole and mixed in a scoop of 3-3-3 fertilizer. The sapling went in to a depth of “bare to the flare,” a  good guidepost when planting any tree. I looked for the bulge just above the the area where the roots begin to flare away from the trunk and made sure that the root flare was just above the soil surface. Next, I staked the sapling, securing it with some twine. Because I planted the tree in my No-Mow May area, which is marked off by all the sticks and branches that fell in the yard over the winter, the tulip tree has a good chance of being left to grow in peace.

Thanks to volunteers for making sapling-preparation day a success: Phyllis Theerman, Shabbeer Syed, Vin Spoto, Eylem Plter Shi Shen, Fred Wright, Ellen Korpi, Dan LaRochelle, Daniel Ryu, Tracy Turcotte, Elizabeth May, Gordon Humber, Kim Emerson, Bill Westerman, Pat Hayden, Maria Qaiser, Jeanne Hoerter, Carl Nelson, John Bradica, Elizabeth Zisis.

Have pics of a Rotary Club tree your family planted years ago? Please send pics to us at, and we’ll happily post them.

The Rotary Club funds the tree program, and other initiatives, through its major fundraiser, Taste of Wellesley, which takes place on Thursday, May 4, 6:30pm-9:30pm. The event will feature a wide variety of signature dishes from Wellesley restaurants, cafes, caterers, local breweries and wineries, along with live music and auction items that are locally sourced. Only 300 tickets will be sold, and they’re going fast. Get yours here, or at Roche Bros. in Linden Square or The Windsor Press (365 Washington St.).

A word about No-Mow May

The idea behind No-Mow May is that by waiting until June to mow lawns, clover,  dandelions, and other plants have a chance to flower, thus feeding pollinators. The popularization of the idea is widely credited to Plantlife, a UK-based organization devoted to protecting and restoring wild plants and fungi. The group says that a decades-long increase in habitat loss and pesticide use has threatened the food supply of pollinators such as bees and other flying insects.

We’ve given over a corner of our yard to No-Mow May. Yes, I have misgivings. My worries, and there are many, is that the long-eradicated knotweed will sniff out weakness and come roaring back. And that the area won’t look like a casual meadow, it will just look like a hot mess. And that I’m actually growing a tick farm, and my family will get Lyme disease. And that Mr. Swellesley, my co-editor and husband, won’t be able to cut down the area at the end of May with his push mower, so we’ll have to hire someone to come out and chop down an unwieldy jungle. And that nobody will want to come out for such a rinky-dink problem of our own making, so Mr. Swellesley will have to take a scythe to the area. And because Mr. S. doesn’t know how to use a scythe, he’ll cut off his own foot.

Other than that, I’m all in on No-Mow May. More to come on my grand experiment.

At least some people in this town know how to chill

The Wellesley Department of Public Works has no such anxieties. Last summer the DPW, in partnership with the Natural Resources Commission, conducted an experiment with No Mow May at Simons Park, adjacent to the Wellesley Free Library. One section of lawn was left to nature, while another section got its usual regular haircuts. The unmown part looked like a Robert Frost poem, knee-high grass swaying in the breeze, birds swooping up and down the wide swathe of sunny meadow, snagging insect treats. It really was quite pretty, and I felt a little sad when I saw the shorn results in June. The Simons Park No Mow May experiment continues this spring.

More Wellesley garden writing

An hour in a Wellesley College professor’s garden—a visit to Little Red

An hour in my Wellesley garden—tidying the shed

Weston Garden Club tour is a once-in-a-decade celebration