Paul B. Odom III, a land developer, was watching one of his first neighborhoods, Rivendell, sprout from the prairie a few houses at a time.
It was 20 years ago, when the grasslands of southwest Oklahoma City were even more rural than they are now.
But he was quick to notice something that was not growing out of the prairie: trees.
As Odom and his construction crews landscaped the addition — lining the central lakes, the boulevard entryway and the community’s common areas with hundreds of trees — he came to a realization.
The need for trees — for himself, for other developers and for private landscape artists — was going to continue to grow alongside development in the metro area.
Odom founded his wholesale tree farm, Rosebrook Nursery, in the early 1990s on a 160-acre wheat farm he bought near Interstate 44 and SW 134.
“I’ve always enjoyed growing things,” he said. “I planted my first garden when I was 5, and I still plant a vegetable garden every year.”
As he operated the tree farm, the amateur horticulturist in Odom emerged in full.
Today, Rosebrook Nursery grows trees on 100 acres of farmland, thousands of trees in scores of varieties, from ash to willow and almost everything in between.
Odom began by planting “a few thousand” trees in the first year, adding a thousand more a year for the first several years.
In the early days, Odom said he “sold some to builders, and gave some to churches,” but only used about 60 percent of the farm’s trees for his own developments.
Today, he said, less than 1 percent of the farm is used to supply Odom properties with trees.
The rest are in huge demand around the country, with recent shipments headed to places including Houston, Minnesota, Long Island, N.Y., and Washington, D.C.
Odom said there’s good reason for the high demand for Oklahoma-raised trees.
“We grow them in such a harsh environment here,” he said, “anyplace else they go to live is going to be easy.”
Odom’s superintendent, Ronnie Ray, who has been with Rosebrook Nursery for 17 years, said one of the symptoms of those harsh conditions — drought — had taken its toll on Rosebrook’s old-growth pecan trees, thinning the farm’s orchard by as much as a third.
Add wind, insects and other predators to the list of stressors from which Ray and Odom must protect their trees.
“Basically, everything is trying to kill these trees,” Ray said.
Odom agreed, calling tree farming “a constant battle against nature.”
Although builders and landscape architects select trees such as the ones Odom produces for their aesthetic value, Odom said homeowners shouldn’t overlook other merits of well-placed and well-maintained trees:
Increased energy efficiency in a home.
Trees planted in a north-south row along the western face of a house will provide shade to protect the house against direct sunlight, especially valuable on scorching summer afternoons. In the winter, those same trees will drop their leaves to allow afternoon sun to warm a house.
Increased resale value of a home.
Odom said that in his experience, proper tree placement as part of a full landscaping scheme will enhance the resale value of a house “by 15 to 50 percent” and shorten its time on the market.
Odom said that homebuilders would be wise to invest about 2 percent of a home’s purchase price in trees and shrubs. Although final landscaping bills that include hardscape and irrigation systems would be higher, he said 2 percent invested in plant materials alone would ensure maximum energy efficiencies and resale value.
In Rivendell, where Capital pear trees line the winding entry drive, Odom planted many varieties of trees along 15,000 feet of constructed shoreline.
Residents Doug and Linda Riebel landscaped the Rivendell home they built in the mid-1990s with 37 Rosebrook Nursery specimens, including Canaerti junipers — and a bourgeoning Golden Rey lacebark elm.
“It had a twin,” Linda lamented, admiring the tree’s feathery, golden canopy. “But we lost it in a windstorm.”
Should the Riebels decide to replace it, they’ll know where to send their landscape designer to shop.