|Project New Leaf, as we learned in the previous “5 Questions” with Joe Hibbard, began in 2014. But that was on paper. The physical work began in 2017, and among the very first actions was the draining of Gold Pond. As the water receded, there was Todd Henderson in a rowboat, gathering small fish, frogs and turtles with a net. The creatures he captured were transferred to the pond by Shaffner Road.
The memory of that April day speaks to Henderson’s versatility, not to mention his respect for all living things. In his 31 years at Cantigny, Todd has just about done it all when it comes to the gardens and grounds. Trees are his prime expertise, but as assistant director of horticulture (since 2019) he now oversees a wide range of daily activities, with Project New Leaf commanding his main focus.
Hired in 1989 to develop a forestry program, Henderson has been involved in Cantigny’s “tree work” ever since. He holds a Forestry degree from Southern Illinois University, is a certified arborist with the International Society of Arboriculture, and former president of the Illinois Arborist Association.
As a resident of tiny Chana, Illinois, in Ogle County, Todd likely has the longest commute of any Cantigny staff member—60 miles one way! He graciously took some time off from working (and driving) to answer our questions.
Q: Many large trees were removed during Project New Leaf. As a “tree guy,” how do you feel about that?
A: Using Cantigny’s tree inventory and working with the designers, we were able to save most of the large trees in the gardens. We did remove some trees that would have caused problems in the near future. We removed many large trees from the McCormick Allée, but most were aged and starting to be unsound structurally. [Editor’s note: The allée’s restoration includes 31 newly planted London Plane trees. Details here.]
Q: During the project, do you track trees removed and new trees planted? If yes, what are the numbers?
A: We will have a true number of the trees, shrubs, etc. removed after reinventory of the gardens. But I can tell you that during Project New Leaf more trees and shrubs have been planted than taken out. [see chart on right] Also, prior to construction, we dug out more than 8,700 trees, shrubs and perennials and saved them for replanting during Phase I, Phase II and other projects.
Q: How involved are you in new tree selection?
A: The entire Cantigny Horticulture team is involved in plant selection for the various parts of the gardens. Tree selection is a cooperative event, although I may STRONGLY suggest some varieties!
Q: Some trees at Cantigny have little silver tags with a number. Is that something new?
A: Those tags with numbers are from the tree database, developed in the early 1990s. We’ve been updating it ever since. It was originally a computer database with hand-drawn maps. Now it’s a computer GPS data map.
Q: Do you have a favorite tree on the property?
A: Yes, the “wedding oak” in the Rose Garden. It’s about 250 years old.