- Associated Press - Saturday, April 26, 2014

THURSTON, Neb. (AP) - If you think one tree looks like another, take a walk around Wanda Kelly’s yard with her.

Much of the acreage on which she lives in rural Thurston is covered with trees, many of them species that are rarely, if ever, seen around here.

They’re all part of the challenge, the joy, that Kelly, known by many as the “Tree Lady,” enjoys as she continually adds to her budding arboretum.

“More than once I’ve asked my husband to buy a couple more acres of land. He just kind of laughs like he doesn’t think I’m serious,” Kelly told the Sioux City Journal (http://bit.ly/1rePsrs). “I want one of everything.”

At the rate Kelly’s going, she just might accomplish that.

To say Kelly loves trees would be an understatement. A former owner of a landscaping business, she’s been the chairwoman of the nearby Pender Tree Board since its inception 23 years ago. She sits on the board of the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum. She’s planted hundreds of trees in and around Pender and continues to add more on the four acres on which she lives.

On Friday, she and other tree board members planned to give their annual Arbor Day presentation to Pender’s fifth- and sixth-graders. They’ll gather in one of the town’s arboretums, talk about trees and plant one.

Arbor Day was Friday, but just about every day is a celebration of trees for Kelly, who said her love for them probably sprouted from her farming roots.

“My dad, my grandpas were all farmers. I married a farmer,” she said. “That’s all I know is digging in the dirt. It’s the only thing I’ve done my whole life I never got tired of or bored with.”

She especially likes planting different species of trees and then watching them grow. The rarer the tree, the better.

And if it’s a hardy, hardwood variety that takes time to grow up, even better. Kelly has the patience to watch a good tree grow, a virtue she wishes more people possessed. Many popular trees are those that grow fast, leading to many of the same species being planted over and over.

Kelly prefers diversity. It’s one of the reasons she, other volunteers and the Pender City Council continue to develop Pender’s arboretums, where uncommon species can be introduced to a wide audience.

“You’re introducing species that no one around here has ever heard of. There’s a lot of great trees out there that people should be planting, but they’re not,” Kelly said.

Kelly’s planting them, though_- red buckeye, hickories, unusual oaks and many others you’ve likely never heard of. There are more on her lengthy wish list.

She’ll plant three or four of them at her home this spring, just as she does every year. When she and her husband built their home 17 years ago, it was an empty canvas. The maturing trees are now reaching the point where they’re providing the shade, windbreak and wildlife shelter she envisioned.

The work’s not done yet. For every open space left, Kelly’s got a tree in mind to fill it.

But ask Kelly to name a favorite, and you might stump her. As she walks across the yard, she points to one tree, talking excitedly about it. That leads to another a little farther off, a conversation which in turn leads to talk about another tree species she’s successfully introduced.

Kelly can’t make up her mind, but as long as a tree’s got bark and leaves or needles, she likes it.

“The one I’m standing next to is my favorite,” she said.

That’s a lot of favorites. But there are many kinds of trees, and Kelly’s got room in her yard for more.

___

Information from: Sioux City Journal, http://www.siouxcityjournal.com

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