Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Save the UVA Rotunda Magnolias


It is estimated that for 100 years eight Southern Magnolia have flanked the 1826 UVA Rotunda that originally housed the campus library.  Thomas Jefferson's Rotunda is the pride of the University and has been undergoing renovation for years and will continue to be hammered upon for years to come.  Part of Jefferson's original Academical Village included lovely garden spaces.  The Magnolias were planted well after Jefferson's death (he would be nearly 270 years old if still alive today) and were not part of his original plan (he designed the hard scape and intended the Pavilion residents to design and maintain their own landscapes).  Aside from that, the local trend when it comes to Jefferson tends to be a complete restoration of his vision and that includes his plantings.  Given that Thomas Jefferson was a man of reason, constant invention, and change, I do not believe that he would expect the garden plantings to not be altered over a 200 year period!

The Board of Visitors has decided that the Magnolias must go because scaffolding must be erected (here we go again) to replace the roof.  Work on the Rotunda seems to be a constant theme, the interior was restored in 1976 and the columns have been falling apart for years and have finally been covered with boots to protect what remains. 

Students have created an online petition to save the trees.  I was absolutely thrilled to see that students are interested in campaigning to save trees!  I felt helpless when I read the news of the trees, as if campus can do whatever they want and is above any citizen outcry.  A student revolt is a totally different beast and should not be taken lightly.  Unlike the Obama appointed Super Committee failed attempt at compromise, I hope the Board of Visitors will listen to the students and alter their original plan so no one will chain themselves to a grand Magnolia (boy have I been tempted in the past to do just that).

Seems a little shaping up is in order
I visited the Rotunda two days ago to see for myself the positioning and size of the trees.  The Board of Visitors was quoted as saying the trees had to go because of scaffolding, which is ridiculous.  If the roofers can't erect scaffolding without harming the trees they need to go back to scaffolding 101 school.  Another often used excuse when cutting down older trees is that they have reached the end of their expected life.  Bah humbug.  There is something to be said for light cast inside the Rotunda.  Also mentioned is that the trees are massive and they might damage the Rotunda in a storm.  Anything is possible but historically it appears that the only damage incurred during a storm was to two of the eight Magnolia, not to the Rotunda (the most pressing damage it seems to me for the Rotunda is pollution from cars and coal).  The Magnolias are not even as tall as the Rotunda dome and are in desperate need of pruning.  I was a bit taken aback at the lack of pruning,, especially on the sides.  Given the structure is so large, the Magnolia actually flank the Rotunda quite nicely.  There is one particular Magnolia that is a lovely specimen and there is no reason to remove it.  It easily can be pruned to not overhang a walkway and is not directly beside the Rotunda. 

Ground level with the magnificent Magnolia
Living among the trees for 20 years in my family home, I shudder at the thought of any tree being cut down.  One of my grandmothers favorite trees was her beloved Southern Magnolia and also on the "park like" property is an assortment of 75 year old trees; Maples, Chestnuts, Apples, Catalpa, Walnut, and Holly.  When we first moved into our family home there were two HUGE yews that I absolutely loved but they were literally growing into the house.  They were planted 2' from the house and were twice as tall as the house! After 10 years, I finally got the courage to cut down the trees when my mother told me that my Grandmother had said, those trees were planted way to close to the house and that she always regretted that decision.  Last year my mother had a 150' leaning Blue Spruce cut down that was also planted way too close to the house.  Both decisions were horrifying to make but were the correct ones.  The house was being gobbled up by the trees so much that you could not see it and the roof was being horribly damaged.  On the flip side, I watched my idiot neighbors hire jack legs to cut down 20 hardwood trees that were NOT up against their house.  I cried watching the destruction and hearing the chain saws for months on end.  I begged them to not do this but they continued (having some drop on our fence).  Our home place has just been sold and I have no desire to go back and possibly see the destruction of the majestic trees on the property for reasons such as... oh I don't like leaves, or we need to let more sun in, or that tree is so messy, or that tree is OLD.

So grand it would bring TJ to tears
Online it has been suggested that the Magnolias be relocated to another site on campus. When I headed to campus the other day, I was ready to battle to save the Magnolias.   I still am but my view has changed.   If judicious pruning doesn't improve the situation and you must remove then instead relocate, keep one where it stands, and make commemorative bowls out of the two storm injured trees (apparently "the thing" to do with felled TJ trees).


The main point in all this is that people young and old care about the nature that abounds on campus and don't want to see it destroyed just because it is convenient to do so.

2013 UPDATE:  The Magnolia are still standing as a consequence of the protests by students!  YAY!

-Rebecca

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