In 1989, Bob Ramsey opened a little restaurant on the corner of E. High Street and Woodland Avenue in Lexington, Kentucky. The restaurant, with its excellent comfort food, soon became a landmark in Lexington. A patio behind the restaurant provided outdoor dining shaded by a large white ash tree that is as much a landmark as the restaurant. It is not as old as many of our Bluegrass venerable trees, but that does not diminish its significance.
Ramsey’s restaurant has moved to a new location after 25 years. The building had hardly been vacant for a month when a new restaurant, Chatham’s, began construction. Its owner, Charles Patterson, told me that he regards the old ash tree as critical to his business, marking the center of a renovated patio.
The tree is fascinating. As these pictures show, removal of the old patio shows that the tree had no fine roots in the little bit of soil – the small roots you can see in the pictures are from the English ivy that surrounded the tree. The roots of this ash tree must be deep below the ground, into the cracks in the Lexington Limestone, the layer of highly fractured rock that underlies the Inner Bluegrass.
We always preach that trees need the most space they can get to thrive, and that is generally true. However, some trees are deeply rooted and have relatively little contact with the surface of the ground in which they grow. While not unique to limestone, it is very common here to find deep-rooted trees with few surface roots.
This tree has lived a long time in the constraints of the tiny space in which it grows. Today, it needs some pruning and treatment to ward off the emerald ash borer. There is not reason to think that this tree will shade Chatham’s patio long into the future, just as it did for Ramsey’s restaurant. I certainly look forward to afternoons sipping iced tea in the shade of this fine old tree. When you go to Chatham’s for a nice dinner and sit on that patio, raise a toast to this fine tree.