Renovation & Design

Transforming old oak into masterpiece

Getting creative to salvage what's left of backyard tree

Laurie Mustard / Winnipeg Free Press

The dead oak tree in the backyard doesn’t have to get chopped down and tossed when it can be transformed into a piece of art that represents a homeowner’s hobby or interest.


I confess.

I believe it was me who killed the beautiful old oak tree in my backyard. Not intentionally, but through ignorance. Nevertheless, it’s just as dead.

How? I believe I accidentally over-watered it. Water from the sump pit pumps out the side of the house facing the oak tree, the outlet being exactly opposite the tree.

Many years ago, I ran a weeping-tile size hose from the sump outlet to the edge of the bush, depositing the water about four feet from the base of the proud old oak.

It took a few years, and I didn’t notice until it was too late, but the tree started to look a little sickly, then just slowly died. I thought maybe it was just old age, or "blight" even, whatever blight is. I really thought the water was just trickling off into the bush. I had no idea I was drowning my oak tree.

So for your sake, it’s too late for me, I put on my investigative journalist hat and did some research on oak trees and the maintenance thereof. From landscape architect Deborah Chernin (Chicago Tribune article, circa 1989: "Too Much Watering Will Kill A Mighty Oak"), two critical factors:

First: "Do not raise or lower the soil level in the root zone of existing oak trees," Chernin writes, asking us to please note that the root zone is one-third larger than the tree’s canopy.

Second: "Grading around the tree or trees... should not be changed so that the water will be brought in on the oaks."

If she were able to speak to me directly, she would probably add: "And under no circumstances drain your sump water at the base of your oak tree!"

Ah well, the tree’s dead, now, what to do with it? Get creative, that’s what.

Time to bring in a chainsaw carver and repurpose that tree. It will now become art.

No, I haven’t chosen a carver yet. I will be doing my homework on that over the next few weeks, and I haven’t settled on a design yet, either.

But I’m thinking I’d like to use at least 12 feet of this trunk, which presently has beneath its surface an as yet unrevealed extraordinary work of art!

Unless, that is, one makes the mistake of giving cousin Wally a chainsaw and a box of beer, the result being a mutilated, barkless stump, kind of like Wally.

There are some really extraordinary chainsaw artists out there. Find one of them.

I really can’t picture what I want yet. You golfers could have a 12-foot driver with a comfy seat on the club head. You fishing fans, a pickerel standing on its tail fin. The trunk could become a beautiful single rose, the petals stained whatever colour you desire. Mechanics; a 12-foot wrench. Think of the joy that would bring to your neighbour who’s already ticked at those old cars in your driveway.

Or, maybe the word "family" or "love" spelled vertically from the top, the spaces around the letters cut right through the tree.

If you’re into scaring neighbours, a nuclear-missile replica should do the trick.

Maybe some of you would like a 12-foot statue of Trump, staring at the neighbour’s deck, where they barbecue and entertain. Now there’s an interesting dynamic.

My guess is I’ll probably go the animal or bird route, maybe a family of raccoons climbing up the trunk — that would fascinate the dogs.

Hey, maybe an Oscar, which I’m sure I would have won had I ever gone to Hollywood. Always dream big.

Bottom line, I’m not losing this oak. I’m transforming it into a different form of beauty. Hope this inspires a few of you to do the same.

Comments or feedback, love to hear from you!


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