COLUMBIA — While driving through Parkade, where vegetable gardens and beds of wildflowers and day lilies are common, residents over the past few weeks have also become accustomed to a new sort of tree.
Standing more than 10 feet tall, a bright blue tree with red summer squash hanging from its branches decorates the home of James and Tommy Ross at 1807 Bear Creek Drive.
Folks new to the neighborhood might do a double take, but Parkade neighbors know it's simply James Ross having a good laugh. The former MU animal sciences professor has made horticulture one of his hobbies since retiring.
“When you get to be as old as we are, your jokes tend to have a little senility to them,” James says.
James and his wife, Tommy, just celebrated their 59th wedding anniversary last Wednesday. They’ve lived in Parkade since 1960.
“There aren’t many neighbors left that have been here as long as we have,” Tommy says.
The medium-size apple tree that stands on the north side of their home used to produce fruit, but about a year ago it contracted a disease and died.
“I think a dead tree in the yard is like a big middle finger,” neighbor Leslie Shaw joked. “When I saw it, I told James to paint it purple.”
The Rosses originally planned to remove the tree. But then James got the bright idea to paint the tree — branches and all — then he bought a half gallon of sky blue paint for 25 cents at a garage sale.
“For a while it was just a good neighborhood joke,” James says. “But now it’s become kind of a landmark in the neighborhood. Kids and families go biking and say ‘we will meet at the blue tree’ or give directions saying ‘turn left at the blue tree.’”
James’ biggest critic, though, is Tommy. “I thought it was an eyesore,” she said of the tree. “But they were having so much fun I decided to keep my mouth shut. I guess it’s modern art.”
Besides creative lawn art, the Rosses also grow gourds, both for decoration and for wren houses. The blue tree is serving as a stake for young summer squash plants that are winding their way up the trunk. James took two of the squash, painted them bright red and hung them on the tree. They look like huge chili peppers.
The tree serves as a reminder that even something considered ugly can be transformed into an interesting display.
“We joked with our other neighbor that we were going to paint her dead tree,” Shaw said.
Next to the blue tree is another old apple tree that Tommy speculates is also dying, given that it’s producing less fruit and thinning out. The Rosses have yet to decide what to do with that one.
“I still have 16 cents of blue paint in my pail,” James says with a grin.