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Local grower shares knowledge at Garden Walk



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Diane and Virgil Roberts stand in their garden overlooking the Roberts Tree Farm. (click for larger version)
June 29, 2011 - Virgil Roberts' home with its variety of trees is one of six featured on the 2011 Clarkston Garden Walk, Wednesday, July 13, 12-7 p.m. The home sits on a hill overlooking Roberts' tree farm, one of the largest in Oakland County.

Garden walk participants will see many unusual trees Roberts has researched and purchased for the farm.

The Roberts moved to their home off Whipple Lake Road over 45 years ago when the 20 acres was an alfalfa field. Roberts said he always had the idea of having a tree farm. The first year, a drought destroyed all his trees, but he persevered.

Today, the garden overlooks thousands of tree and plant species. Diane Roberts says she has her pick of trees, but the yard will only hold so many.

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A Camperdown Elm that Virgil pruned like an umbrella sits just outside the kitchen window. The tree is a haven for birds and the orange birdfeeder located nearby with grape jelly attracts the local Baltimore Oriole population for a quick snack.

Diane said the tree acts as a canopy to shelter the birds. Virgil adds it also shields the birds from the local hawk population and provides the family with the enjoyment of bird watching.

The Roberts say they believe the tree farm acts as a shelter for the bird population with indigo buntings, bluebirds, goldfinches, cardinals, fly catchers, hummingbirds, nuthatches and chickadees all making their homes in the many trees.

While Virgil says he is self-taught about the tree business, he has interests in grafting and pruning.

He said the Lavender Twist Redbud tree was a freak of nature, but a nurseryman in Ohio purchased the tree from a woman in Pennsylvania and grafted the original tree to create many more.

He explained the grafting process is similar to cloning where the tissue of one plant is inserted into another plant.

A Heritage River Birch has a place of honor on the hill near the house. Virgil said the Heritage River Birch is resistant to the bronze birch bore, drought tolerant and, after the first year, is fast growing and becoming popular in this area.

He still specializes in different cultivars of maples, but people are interested in unusual trees.

"When people drive down a street and see an unusual tree, they often come by wanting to have something similar," he said.

Trees are somewhat similar to fashion, in that they change over years, said Virgil, who offers nine types of maples as well as a variety of specialty trees.

A TriColored Beech is a front yard favorite of the Roberts. The tree has been around since the 1930s or 1940s. While the tree is a slow grower needing 4-5 hours of shade each day, the pink, purple and white leaved tree is currently very popular, he said.

A Nine Bark tree with wine colored leaves and a white trunk also sits in a place of honor in the yard.

Visitors will also see many of the ironwork pieces made by Virgil and placed aptly around the house gardens.

The Roberts along with five other residents open their gardens for the Clarkston Farm and Garden Club's sixth annual Garden Walk on July 13.

Proceeds from the garden walk are used for educational programs for Clarkston students, maintaining Main Street planters, Independence Township Library gardens and scholarships for high school seniors.

Tickets are $15 prior to the day of the walk and are available at Bordines on Dixie Highway, KH Home, 27 S. Main, Clarkston Chamber of Commerce, 5856 S. Main, The Birdfeeder, 7150 N. Main, and Clarkston Country Store, 21 N. Main, or by sending a check made out to Clarkston Farm and Garden Club, P.O. Box 1011, Clarkston 48347.

On the day of the walk, participants begin at the Independence Township Library, 6495 Clarkston Road.

Walkers can pick up a list of restaurants with specials for participants, browse an Artist Market on the library grounds and pick up the walk program with addresses.

Tickets will be available at the library on the day of the walk for $18. For more information, call 248-620-2984.

BY JOETTE KUNSE

Special to the Clarkston News

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