Bettering Plainfield with the facts since 2005

Monday, October 24, 2011

Butchery on West 8th Street?

Photo by Arne Aakre of the VWB Historic District of the Azalea hedge in bloom.
Tree Committee chairperson Greg Palermo thinks it is a variety named 'Amoena'.

Remains of Azalea hedge neatly bundled and stacked by curb.

House can once again be seen from street. Stumps are about 18" high.

Satellite view by Google shows house at very rear of lot
and Azalea hedge along 8th Street.
A Plainfield resident called me Friday near sundown and was quite distraught at having driven home from work along West 8th Street through the Van Wyck Brooks Historic District to discover that a famed Azalea hedge in the 500-block had been cut down.

The hedge, estimated to be a hundred years old, was a magnificent fixture on West 8th Street in the spring, with a wall of blooms approximately a hundred or so feet long and ten or twelve feet high. (I had some pictures but can't locate them; if any reader has some shots, please send to me here and I will post with acknowledgement -- thanks!)

Going out on Saturday morning to get some pictures of the situation, I found the remains of the Azaleas neatly bundled and stacked in a long row on the street awaiting pickup by the DPW when making its Fall rounds.

Neighbors told me that a yard service crew had removed the hedge on Thursday, saying that the property owners had been plagued with thefts of outdoor items and other criminal mischief which was unobservable from the street due to the height and density of the hedge.

That is certainly plausible, given that Councilor Mapp -- who lives directly across the street -- told me it had been some time after he moved in before he even realized there was a house across the street.

The 'house' is actually the carriage house of what had once been a magnificent estate, the land of which was subdivided many years ago to provide for the four condos built just to the west.

Those condos themselves are a Plainfield story -- the present design, which emulates a large estate home but actually holds four units, was the result of sustained pressure from Van Wyck Brooks residents (mainly led by residents Helga and Murray Roberts).

Mrs. Roberts told me the originally proposed units 'looked like a Howard Johnson's motel'. The design as approved should be a model for how to develop properties in historic districts with sensitivity to both the historic nature and the developer's right to turn a buck.

As for the Azalea hedge, it looks to be pruned back to about 18", which would qualify as a 'severe pruning', designed to rejuvenate the plants and force the development of new growth according to many online pruning guides (see many online resources here). The only really questionable point appears to be that the pruning is recommended for the end of winter, and not in the fall.

We shall have to see -- over a few years -- how successful the pruning has been.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Anonymous said...

I remember the Azalea hedge walking to Plainfield High School many..many years ago. It was a lovely sight when they bloomed each year.

Nature is able to rejuvenate itself so the stumps that remain should revive in a few years and regain their splendor albeit not the height.

It's a shame society has regressed to the point such drastic measures have to be taken.

Gregory Palermo said...

Bernice and Walter Swain told me many years ago that the azalea variety was Amoena. It is an azalea of a very distinctive and beautiful color that I think of as the Plainfield azalea. One sees it scattered about Plainfield but rarely anywhere else in this area. I assume that the variety was in vogue in the late 19th and early 20th centuries when there was a lot of building in Plainfield, but then it then lost favor. To find Amoena for sale now one must search the internet. Even the azalea specialist Carlson's Gardens in South Salem, NY doesn't keep it in stock.
Photo of Amoena in bloom (not the West 8th Street hedge) here:
I hope someone has photographs of our Plainfield hedge in bloom because it is not widely recognized that Amoena can grow so tall.
I agree with the previous comment that the hedge will probably regenerate itself.

Anonymous said...

It is with much dismay that we read your report of the unfortunate pruning of Mrs. Tyler's azalea hedge. Mrs. Ethel Van Boskerck Tyler, who owned and most likely planted the hedge, was a founding member of the Plainfield Garden Club. Our oldest members (going back to 1952) claim the azaleas
have always been there.

Our only hope is that the hedge will rejuvenate, but late October is not the time to trim azaleas as their buds are already set for spring 2012.

-- Susan, for the Plainfield Garden Club

Bob said...

I walk that area and only notice the home there in the winter. I can see how someone could do damagein that yard, since it is difficult to see anything behind the hedge. It is sad, but that is the reality of our day. I love Plainfield in the spring with all the azealeas, rhododendrons, and forsythias. It's a slice of the county in the city.

Michael Townley said...

When I lived in Plainfield on Stillman Avenue, I had five large azaleas of similar color across the front of the house. Just as beautiful as those on West Eighth, but at nearly 5 feet in height, much too large for landscape, I did a severe cutback one Fall (similar to West Eighth). They all re-generated next Spring (no blossoms, obviously) and then lived many long years as prolific bloomers again. I expect the Eighth street azaleas will do the same.

Anonymous said...

I saw them yesterday and was heart sick as the were the Tyler azaleas.....I wondered whether the current owners realized the history of those magnificent only hope is that in true tough grit Plainfield form..they will hold on and bloom again this spring...jbandomer

Maria Pellum, Plainfield Resident said...

Hi Dan,

While it is always sad to see what feels like a "public fixture" of a neighborhood I was surprised to see no comments (yet) of the even sadder reason behind the drastic prunning: lack of safety. It would be interesting to learn what the crime rate is around that area and what the response to combat it has been.

Maria Pellum

Anonymous said...

By placing them out by the curb does the homeowner expect Public Works to pick them up? If so, they dont seem to be cut, bundled and tied to the required lengths and weights as I am required to do when I have branches put at the curb.