The Special Service Award from the International Oak Society has Bob McCartney’s name on it, but he says it is also an honor that recognizes Aiken.
“I have worked with city managers all the way back to Roland Windham, and I have always received good cooperation and support from them,” McCartney said.
McCartney, 79, is the president of Woodlanders Inc., a nursery that specializes in rare native and exotic perennials. For more than 30 years, he has been planting trees and shrubs in numerous locations throughout Aiken.
“The nursery has basically donated them, and I have taken care of them after I planted them until they were well established,” he said.
Many of the trees given by Woodlanders to the City of Aiken are oaks.
“Aiken has the most diverse collection of oaks in the United States,” McCartney said. “There are oaks here from all over the world. We have more than 100 different species.”
The trees in Aiken’s oak collection include a young Quercus insignis, a native to Mexico and Central America, and one day, it might produce acorns larger than golf balls.
“I’m not sure how it’s going to fare during the winter,” McCartney said.
Also in Aiken’s collection is a Quercus fabrei, which McCartney grew from an acorn picked up near a temple in China.
“There is a lot of variety in leaf size and shape among oaks,” McCartney said. “Some are evergreen, and some are deciduous.”
There are large groups of oaks planted by McCartney on Park Avenue and Beaufort Street.
“I’ve grown a lot of them from acorns that I’ve collected in other parts of the country and abroad,” he said.
The Oak Society honored McCartney during its eighth Triennial Oak Conference at The Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Illinois, in October.
“I was sitting at what they called the ‘gala banquet’ and watching people accept their various awards,” McCartney said. “Then they got the to last one, and they called my name. I was just flabbergasted.”
McCartney brought acorns to the conference and traded them for ones from trees that he didn’t have, so he’ll be adding some new oaks to Aiken’s collection in the near future.
“A lot of people from Aiken don’t realize what we have here,” McCartney said.
The City of Aiken Arboretum Tree Trail on Colleton Avenue features trees put into the ground by McCartney, and it is in the process of being expanded to include Rye Patch and Hopelands Gardens.
“We’ve already got the signs made, and we’ve just got to tweak the recordings a little bit for the cellphone tour before everything will be ready,” McCartney said. “I’ve planted a lot of trees at Hopelands and Rye Patch, and I’ve also put them on some of the private estates. I learned a long time ago what all teenagers know. It’s better to ask forgiveness than permission, so I just plant them.”
Dede Biles is a general assignment reporter.