Scott Jamieson is very proud of the 450 swamp white oak trees that bring life to the new Sept. 11 monument at ground zero in Manhattan.
The suburban resident is a vice president of Bartlett Tree Experts, which has raised the ground zero trees for five years in New Jersey and will care for them for at least two years at the National September 11 Memorial.
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"The Sept. 11 memorial is very stark; it's concrete. Trees make a living canopy," the Arlington Heights resident said. "They bring life to the memorial where there was just death. They will comfort a lot of people."
Jamieson's personal role is heading up the unit that uses a GPS system to monitor each individual tree's health, care and size. Staffers can follow every tree as it is planted at the memorial and keep following it to see if it develops any issues.
The GPS monitors could be a clue that the care these trees have received over the past five years is not what you would find in a typical nursery.
"It's the most intensive tree growing in the history of the world," said Jamieson, who has degrees in urban forestry.
Most dramatically, each tree was grown in its own large, individual, above-ground planter. This means 100 percent of the roots go with each tree to the monument, as opposed to the 30 percent of the roots that are generally recovered when a tree is dug up and transplanted.
These trees -- which have also been shaped to look identical -- are now about 30 feet tall with trunk diameters of 9 or 10 inches.
"Typically it's not a good thing to transplant big trees," said Jamieson. "That's why we want all their root system to go along."
Growing in planters means each winter the planters had to be wrapped with insulation and mulched because they weren't buried in the ground. Each tree also has a moisture sensor and was hooked into drip irrigation.
Only one tree was lost in the five years, brags Jamieson, and that tree was struck by lightning. Security at the nursery included a 24-hour web camera.
"It's pretty impressive to stand there (at the nursery) and see rows of trees," he said. "I couldn't help think of Arlington (National) Cemetery."
The trees were raised in New Jersey where the climate is similar to nearby Manhattan. They have been moving to the memorial in shifts since the first 17 were installed last year for the ninth anniversary of the terrorist attacks. The official opening for the memorial is Sept. 12. Visit 911memorial.org.
The heat-reflecting monument is a harsh environment for the trees, but the roots are in big planters set beneath the plaza where they can be given great soil, fertilizer and water.
"They've done it right," Jamieson said. "Swamp white oaks are hardy; they put up with a lot of water and poor soils. They are tough urban trees, a good species to pick."
Jamieson added he personally likes the choice of tree.
"We don't have a national tree," he said. "But the oak is solid and known for its strength."
Jamieson thinks the fact that Bartlett Tree Experts have a research facility, located in Charlotte, N.C., helped the company get the contract to care for the trees for five years in New Jersey, then for at least two years in Manhattan.
He also personally planted two memorial oaks at Our Lady of the Wayside in Arlington Heights, his children's elementary school.
With the help of students, Jamieson planted a Chinquapin oak for the first Arbor Day after Sept. 11. Then last spring they planted a swamp white oak, the species planted in New York.
"It's not a bad tribute -- planting a tree for the anniversary," he said. "It's a living tribute that will stand the test of time. It's really about the thoughts that go into it. A lot of those kids will remember."
Arbor Day is in the spring, a good time to plant, and youngsters can learn about trees' benefits and care -- such as not hanging on tiny limbs.
"The thing they love the most is getting a shovel and throwing dirt," Jamieson said.
He and his son Ryan, who is now 16 and a student at St. Viator High School in Arlington Heights, carried water to the first tree during that summer nine years ago, a chore that was not necessary for the new tree this rainy season.
Jamieson and his wife, Diane, also have a daughter, Kathryn, who is 13 and in her last year at Wayside.
Mariane Leanes, a teacher at Wayside, sometimes takes her students out to hang yellow ribbons on the first tree.
A stone carved with "We will always remember Sept. 11, 2001" sits at its base.