It’s a good week for trees; Earth Day today, Arbor Day on Friday. So, in honor of trees, we headed to west suburban Oak Park and the former home of one of the Chicago area’s original tree huggers.
“Most of the trees that are here on the property are the originals,” says Karen Sweeney, the preservation architect for the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust. Dan Krug is an arborist for a company called, The Care of Trees. “They range in age from about 120 years and up, depending on if they were here before he built his studio.” At the corner of Chicago and Forest Avenues in a beautiful and historic Oak Park neighborhood, sits an architectural treasure. Some 85-thousand visitors come from all over the world to see the home and studio that a young Frank Lloyd Wright built in 1889. We came to see his trees.
“This site was a landscaper’s property,” says Sweeney, “and a lot of the mature trees were here when he got it.” One of them, an almost 200 year old ginkgo tree, now the centerpiece of the east courtyard. Arborist Krug’s company has cared for the trees on this property for the past two decades. “In Asia where ginkgos are native, they can live for thousands of years. But we don’t have such a large data set here.”
Krug is just one of the arborists charged with keeping the ginkgo and all of Wright’s trees here healthy.
“We do fertilize it annually to keep the roots healthy and to improve the canopy over time. But, pruning when necessary is really one of the more important things we do.” Frank Lloyd Wright didn’t plant the ginkgo tree. Yet to compliment his Prairie-style architecture, he chose to work around it, just as he did with every tree on the Oak Park property.
Architect Sweeney shows us an example inside the passageway between the home and studio.“The tree was here and Mr. Wright was not going to tear down the tree even though he wanted to have a connection between his home and his studio. He literally builds the passageway, around the tree that existed there.” Wright loved to experiment here using stained glass skylights to bring nature indoors. “So the art glass, you’re under a tree and you’re looking up and it has that dappled effect of the light coming through.” Wright understood natural light, landscaping, and the power of trees.
Again, Karen Sweeney; “Probably even more back then they saw the benefits of a tree because you didn’t have air conditioning.” Krug says the Kentucky coffee tree on the front lawn can retain up to 6500 gallons of rainwater a year. “There’s multiple benefits for trees, not just from a tourism perspective but ground water retention.” The tree removes hundreds of pounds of carbon from the air, creates lots of shade for energy efficiency, and saves hundreds of dollars every year. “We live in the world of trees, so it’s not our world, it’s their world. We just live around it.” Steve Sanders, WGN News.
Arborist Krug says pest management, fertilizer, and annual tree inspections can help keep your trees as healthy as possible. And if you want to know exactly how much it pays to plant trees, you can find a tree benefit calculator by clicking the first link here.
Producer Pam Grimes and photojournalist Brad Piper contributed to this report.