Our (Late) Chinese Chestnut Tree

When my mother paid her first visit to our new home, she preferred to walk the property rather than tour the home. First things first for an avid gardener. Overgrown and neglected is all we could see. Honeysuckle, grape vines and blackberry vines choked every living tree and shrub but my mother could see hidden beauty. The only blooms anywhere were dandelion and buttercups that turned the grass a bright sea of yellow, but she saw numerous treasures like the mature Styrax japonica that we could stand beneath and gaze upward into hundreds, no thousands of lovely bell-shaped blooms, old dogwood trees so covered in grape vines that they leaned at a 45 degree angles searching for a small ray of sunshine, but the discovery that delighted her most was the Chinese chestnut tree (Castanea mollissima).  Her eyes were wide with excitement. She waded into the forest of vines and separated enough to show me there was a tree beneath the tangle.

How the tree lived, I do not know. The next visit my mother made to our home was to give us the expertise of her yard man. At 7 a.m. he began to free the Chinese chestnut.  When darkness fell, he was not finished but we could see the form of a tree beginning to emerge. And eventually the tree was released from bondage and beneath this old tree I designed my first garden…. azalea, oakleaf hydrangea, epimedium, solomon’s seal, helebores… all things shaded by the boughs of a wide Chinese chestnut tree flourished for years.

That was then and this is now. Sadly the Chinese chestnut tree has been removed. For the past three years it has been dying in feet and yards and each spring we would trim the unsightly dead limbs from the tree. But this year so little was living, we decided to remove the old friend. The plants beneath, once shaded, are now left exposed to the sun and are sunburned and brown.  They await the arduous undertaking of reassignment to a shady area of the garden.

I did collect a few nuts that the squirrels missed. You can be sure that the nuts will be planted this fall in hopes that someone in the future will be able to enjoy these beautiful trees.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

5 thoughts on “Our (Late) Chinese Chestnut Tree

  1. Having to take down an old tree makes me sad. I had to take down a dying tulip poplar last year, and soon the Walnut tree planted too close to the house (previous owners) will probably have to go.
    Why do you think the chestnut died, any ideas, after it survived for so long under not so good conditions?


    • Chinese chestnuts need good drainage and this tree had survived a very long time in soil with very poor drainage. Plus, the pump house near by kept the soil far too wet. After we freed the tree, we saw signs that the tree had problems that we think were related to the wet soil. We’re happy that it lived for almost 15 more years. If the seeds germinate, I’ll choose a better location.


  2. Would you like to try an American chestnut? I started it last year from what I hope is disease free stock. I believe optimum conditions are on a gentle slope but we don’t have too many of those around here.


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