How to pamper a “mighty oak”



by Susan 
Here’s what the Pepe family has done to take care of their 200-300-year-old, 107-foot-tall, 22-foot-around
white oak: 

  • Cleared away competing trees and undergrowth,
    allowing the oak’s branches to spread freely. That also improved the tree’s balance, so it doesn’t need cables for support. 
  • Installed
    grounding wires to protect against lightning. 
  • Had it regularly inspected and fed by a certified
  • Stopped planting row
    crops nearby after noticing that herbicide applications curled the
    tree’s leaves.
  • Patted the tree while purring "Sweet, sweet girl" to it.

Why all the pampering?  Because, like giant pumpkins everywhere, this tree is in competition.  Since Maryland’s Official State Tree fell in 2002, the Pepes’ oak, described by the prior owner as a "no-account tree getting ready to die", has been identified as the largest in the state and is being considered for Official State Tree status. 

So what does this tell us, besides what we already know about the lengths to which people will go to win titles?  Maybe that it’s only with lots of human intervention that plants can live so long and grow so well?  In the 17 years since the Pepes have owned the tree it’s responded by growing 1.8 feet in circumference and 16 feet in height. 

The story of the tree’s impact on the humans who pamper it is an interesting one, too.  Growing up in a family of Italian immigrants in Harlem, Victor Pepe became a successful homebuilder in the Washington, D.C. area, all the while living in a high-rise apartment just outside the beltway.  But in Tree1_11988 he drove to the countryside to cut a Christmas tree and immediately decided to move to the area.  He bought 225-acre farm with front
porch view of Sugarloaf Mountain and now he says that buying the farm and nurturing the oak "is the fulfillment of a dream that I couldn’t know was in me."  And onward he gushes: "I’m blessed! We have been so blessed"!

All that resonates with me big-time because I frequently plop into a garden chair and worship the vision of another mighty oak, of unknown age and size but damn big.  It’s one of 10 white oaks on my property and one of approximately 50 deciduous trees on or over my lot.  I counted them but already knew they produce a shitload of leaves for me to rake and dump on the old compost pile every year, a job I finished just this week.  Not that I’m complaining.  On the contrary, I LOVE the raking!  I’d even say I’m blessed!

Here’s the story of the Pepes and their white oak by Susan DeFord in the Washington Post.  The photos are of my favorite white oak, as seen from the ground and from my garden chairs.


  1. Lucky trees, lucky Pepes, lucky you. I’m envious. My much, much younger scarlet oak was cut down recently, premature death due to phytophthera, and boy, do I miss it!

  2. The story of the revitalisation of Kew Gardens tree collection by Tony Kirkham is a fascinating one with similar detail to but on a slightly grander scale than the one above. The gist of both stories being big old trees respond remarkably to a bit of care.

  3. I like raking, too, and I especially like dumping the raked leaves into my compost piles, breathing the earthy smell in deeply. But the best raking incident I ever experienced was when I wasn’t even raking: I’d walked down to the post office a few blocks from my house when I noticed a group of school-aged children with rakes in the park on the way home. They were energetically raking the leaves in the park into enormous piles, then diving into them, squealing and giggling. When the piles were too spread out, they would rake the leaves back into a high pile and dive in again. I can’t imagine many things more fun than that.

  4. In this disposable world this story makes my heart sing. Just thing of all the birds and wildlife that have depended on this mighty tree for housing.

    Thanks for a good story and making me smile this morning.

  5. Wonderful post, Susan–though I must say the idea that herbicide is required to grow row crops did stop me in my tracks.

    Still, I love Victor Pepe for getting such joy out of his landscape.

    Old oak trees are the most beautiful trees, with the possible exception of old black locust trees. I love the rounded crowns of old oaks. There aren’t that many of them in my part of the world–we’re really sugar maple country. But now that the climate is warming up too much for the sugar maples, maybe more oaks will start appearing.

  6. Susan,
    You are obviously in the business of plagerizing articles from the Washington Post. Why don’t you come up with orignal articles yourself rather than trying to get credit from other writer’s work. You obviously did not interview The Pepe’s yourself!

  7. I hope the legal department at The washington Post starts slapping you with a suit. Woman, you are a fraud and you know it!!!! I don’t buy your excuse…obviously you need to take a communication law course on libel and slander!

  8. Sally, first calm down and consult a dictionary.
    On the contrary, my friends at the Post tell me they LIKE having bloggers reference their stories. Ever notice the Post website puts a little “Who’s Blogging about this Article” next to each story to list all the bloggers like myself who flatter them by linking to their stories?
    And you might read some other blogs. Referencing articles in the news is what we DO.

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