Shade trees are the soft flesh, if you will, on a city’s skeleton of buildings and concrete. Shade trees bring life to hard spaces and make a home for people in the cities in even the most unlikely places. Amidst urban heat, hard surfaces, and harsh glare, shade trees are an immediate relief – an oasis. I’ve thought a lot about this since one of Harrisonburg’s very best restaurants closed its doors. The Blue Nile created home for many people, in part because of its shade trees.
In 2008 we planted trees to shade the Blue Nile’s outdoor patio. The owners of the Blue Nile, the Arefaine family, had a vision for their space. They wanted to filter the hot glare of the setting sun and provide a welcoming canopy for their guests to dine under. We were honored to be asked to help them with this plan. With a patio elevated six feet above the ground, only a small planting strip squeezed up against the patio’s edge, and shallow soil with a “bedrock” of gravel just 15 inches below the soil’s surface, it was clear the options were limited. We chose the Zelkova for its disease and insect resistance, its ability to grow fast, its tolerance for urban conditions and its vase-shaped growth habit to rise above the patio and shelter outdoor diners.