Landscape Worker Joseph Reardon in a familiar setting.
No Going Out on a Limb for Him
BC's resident tree expert helps keep the campus properly pruned
By Stephen Gawlik
Spring means long and full days for those who ensure the Boston College campus retains its beauty - especially Landscape Worker Joseph Reardon, BC's one and only state-certified tree specialist.
With his trusty pruning blade, chainsaw and clippers, Reardon has the special responsibility of caring for all the different species of trees that populate BC's three campuses.
"We've got Japanese maples, crabapple trees, zelkovas, dogwoods - the list goes on," said Reardon, who has worked at BC for 10 years. "There are probably 100 different types of trees on this campus, and each species requires its own attention."
This week, trees are the topic du jour on campus and across the country. At the BC Arts Festival, which opens today, trees are the theme of the collaborative sculpture display "The Enchanted Forest" [see page 8] and tomorrow is Arbor Day, when communities across the United States celebrate the benefits of trees.
While late April might seem a particularly demanding time to be a tree expert, Reardon - known among his fellow landscapers as "The Captain" - says trees are something that require attention every single day of the year.
"Most of the pruning work is done in the winter," said Reardon. "That's when you can do the least damage to the tree, and since the ground is still frozen there's less damage to the lawns."
Reardon said pruning is a skill that takes quite a while to learn as it is aimed at reducing a tree's "sail" to lessen its susceptibility to high winds while not removing so much of a tree's canopy to hurt it.
"Joe is an artist," said Grounds Maintenance Manager James Slattery, who says he relies heavily on Reardon's expertise. "I don't know what we'd do without him."
Reardon does not work alone in his efforts to care for the trees on campus. The University is aided by Geller DeVellis Inc., a landscape architecture, civil engineering and site planning firm that has worked with administrators to develop a master plan for Boston College. Grounds Maintenance uses that plan in making decisions regarding the care of some 200 acres on the Chestnut Hill, Newton and Brighton campuses.
Additionally, the 43 linden trees on Linden Lane are cared for by an external contractor, due in part to their size and number.
Reardon said the largest tree on campus is one that few people have ever seen.
"It's a beech tree on Newton Campus, it's a little out of the way so most people don't know it's there," he said. "It's probably 100 years old."
Some of the more unique species are in the vicinity of Hovey House and the offerings include an American Sequoia as well as several cypress trees.
"The fellow who used to live there was a horticulturist and there's plenty of interesting stuff there," he said.
Reardon said the presence of so many diverse tree species at BC is a good thing, since the outbreak of a disease or fungus - such as Dutch Elm disease, which has killed half of the elms in the northern US since the 1930s - won't render the campus treeless.
"We have to take precautions against plenty of things like that," said Reardon.
But sometimes the trickier parts of his job include dealing with people who have opinions about how something should look, without fully knowing all the facts about a given tree.
"The saying goes, 'It's not the branch you're cutting, it's the ones you're saving,'" said Reardon. "Sometimes you have to cut one branch down to save all the others."
Reardon recalls once being interrupted while helping take down a rotted old maple near Higgins Hall by a faculty member who was concerned that the University might be out to severely reduce the campus tree population. The conflict was soon resolved with a demonstration showing that the old tree was already dead, but it taught Reardon something about how people and trees sometimes interact.
"It was understandable, some people love their trees," he said. "But sometimes you have to explain things to them so they see the big picture."