I have many fond memories of my last house in Portland, but none sweeter than that of the ancient, 40-foot native dogwood (Cornus nuttallii) that grew just eight feet beyond a south-facing window. In the summer, I drank tea in the window seat and admired the tree’s smooth, gray trunk, which was shaded by its low-branching canopy. Nuthatches and bushtits patrolled for insects while squirrels chased each other in the branches. Light reflected from the creamy flowers lit up the room in spring, and in autumn, the tree’s fruit provided a feast for the birds.

This stately tree afforded me great pleasure—and helped keep the house cool and comfortable in summer. It also taught me a lesson: Choose and plant trees carefully. While the dogwood in my yard may have been planted by a bird rather than a garden designer, it couldn’t have been better situated. Its perfect position is undoubtedly why it endured the years without meeting the ax.