“Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing” -Abraham Lincoln. This past June a dear friend of ours was lost. George Snyder, a long time resident of Long Hill Township, was in some ways, like many of our customers. He started out as a customer and soon became a friend. George and his family however, went beyond that and really became part of our family. A true gentleman, George was always mindful and respectful of our time and efforts, which seems to be an outstanding quality today. A loyal customer who frequented our store, almost weekly, we all knew him and affectionately called out his name, GEORGE… whenever we saw him.
Soon after learning of George’s passing, a mutual friend reached out to me and said a group of friends were interested in getting George a memorial tree. Through the encouragement of George’s wife Kathy, she said, “Go to Hall’s and ask Bobby what his favorite tree was and get it!” One problem, George was a plant lover; maybe even a tree hugger, and I couldn’t recall just one favorite tree. George had Cryptomeria, Southern Magnolia, Styrax, Umbrella Pine and an extensive assortment of spruce just to name a few. George was a charismatic, gregarious and extremely warm human being. But above all, he was genuine, grounded and pragmatic. He had an “over the top” personality and anyone that knew him was better for it. Our last conversation that George and I had was about a tree that was so striking, that even from across our parking lot George commented, “now that tree really stands out.”
Bright Park/Golden Japanese Zelkova, Zelkova serrata ‘Ogon’ was in fact that tree! Zelkova trees are handsome trees and well suited for residential streets, front lawns or parks. Similar to Chinese Elm and resistant to Dutch Elm disease, it is the bark that has always held my attention. An almost cherry-like bark in adolescence, complete with heavy lenticels, it matures into a robust, strong exfoliating stilt supporting a letter “Y” habit. Hardy to zone (4), the specimen we choose for George was ‘Ogon.’ This rather rare Japanese import begins the spring with an intense flush of chartreuse foliage morphing into a bright golden yellow canopy in late summer. The slightly exfoliating bark is coral colored, contrasting nicely with its yellow leaves. A wonderful specimen that will light up any landscape, my intention is for it to be a welcoming beacon while trying to capture a bit of George’s personality with all of it’s positive attributes. Truly a specimen for every season, those who visit this unique tree, at any time of year, should thoroughly enjoy it.
Today George’s ‘Ogon’ sits prominently in an open field behind the Stirling Hotel in Stirling, NJ. A local “watering hole” that George would frequent, is a “rustic roadhouse” (nj.com/jerseybest) that recently won the people’s choice award in N.J’s best bars showdown. A celebration of George’s life was held at the Stirling Hotel where a well attended group all took turns watering his tree with a symbolic watering can. I personally can’t wait to see ‘Ogon’s’ fall color this year. Anticipated glowing amber bark and harvest gold foliage should pair nicely with one of the eclectic beer selections that the Stirling Hotel offers. I will raise a pint to my friend, remembering his kindness and fortitude and congratulate him on a life well lived.