Johnny “Appleseed” Chapman roamed throughout Pennsylvania and the Midwest some 200 years ago, planting nurseries of apple trees and spreading good will along the way. His legacy still lives on in American folklore—especially in the nursery rhyme. But Appleseed isn’t the only plant hero.
Lesser known is the modern-day woman dubbed Marion Maple Tree. Born and raised in Washington, D.C., she traveled to Pennsylvania over 50 years ago and put down roots—and her maple trees—in the land of William Penn. I count myself blessed to be a product of those roots, for I know Marion Maple Tree by another name: Mom.
Every time I see a red maple tree, I can’t help but think of the Japanese maples that grew at my childhood home, and wonder if perhaps they’re related.
My mother was born with a love of gardening, which she inherited from her own mother. Coming out of hibernation in late March, she would slowly begin to rake out flowerbeds and prepare for May flower plantings. Potted hyacinth and lilies leftover from Easter, impatiens, geraniums, petunias—they all came together to create a colorful canvas that would brighten our yard all summer.
Well, mostly. My mother also raised seven sons. Gardening, a gaggle of boys, and a yard in Drexel Hill were often incompatible. Subsequently, the flowers lost out. Rhododendron seedpods were plucked for ammo in games of war;
roses were beheaded by fouled wiffle balls; impatiens were trampled as freely as our mother’s own patience.
Which is why I think she loved her Japanese maple trees so much. They simply went about their business without care, dropping seeds that rooted into countless saplings each summer. Our mother would weed around each sapling, letting it grow until it became so large that she just let it be.
Over the years, those saplings have set roots far and wide. When my wife and I purchased our first home almost 20 years ago, one made its way to our front yard. While we don’t live there anymore, that maple tree does. When we moved to our current home, another sapling was transplanted from Marion’s Drexel Hill nursery. That tree is quickly reaching the height of its sibling from our first home.
My brothers, those same boys who helped trample our mother’s hydrangea bushes, have also been gifted saplings over the years. Trees planted, roots set.
This past year, our mother moved from her Drexel Hill home, but not before digging up a rather large sapling. It’s taken root at her new home, where Marion Maple Tree’s work will continue for years to come.
Michael T. Dolan has put down his own roots in West Chester. Check out more of his work at www.michaeltdolan.com.