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More Trees Than You Can Shake A Stick At
updated: Oct 23, 2010, 10:00 AM

By Billy Goodnick

Lin and I were in San Diego last weekend, delighting in the gloom and drizzle in Balboa Park, visiting family, and getting a crash course on Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec at the San Diego Museum of Art.

On our slog home along the 405, we stopped in Costa Mesa to pay homage, and engage in some camera play, at a magical corporate plaza where landscape architecture meets sculptural art - Isamu Noguchi's California Scenario.

The gathering of sculptural icons amounts to an allegorical tale of water in California as it cascades down steep mountains, nurtures forests, flows through fields and deserts, and eventually is consumed by The City, disappearing into a dark slot in a glistening, low-slung, somewhat sinister looking pyramid.

I learned of this Noguchi work when I studied landscape architecture and have returned from time to time as a reminder of what design and art can say. I also enjoy seeing how the plantings have evolved and matured over the decades.

California Scenario is bounded by a parking structure and by two nothing-to-write-home-about glass office towers. The massive scale of these buildings is brilliantly balanced by Noguchi's command of space and scale. (more images)

The now towering redwood trees that border three sides of a sloping native sedge meadow are striking in their size, taming the massiveness of the buildings. They remind me of how the intelligent matching of purpose, plant, and place are essential for a well-executed landscape.

Back on the 405

The afterglow of our art pilgrimage was dulled when we continued our northward trek and stopped in West LA for a bite. At the intersection of Santa Monica Boulevard and Sheryl Crowe St. - no, make that Sawtelle Blvd. - I gazed out the window of a miniscule Japanese restaurant at a bleak urban landscape, starkly devoid of anything green (other than the edamame Lin was daintily devouring). Not a tree or plant to break the depressing pall of old, tired buildings, overhead wires and traffic. "We sure ain't in Santa Barbara," I kvetched to Lin. "Nobody around here will be picking up any Tree City USA designations."

It's one of those things where you have to leave home to appreciate what you've got, whether it's the perfect, flaccid feather pillow you've come to rely on, or the diverse canopy of trees that add richness to our fair city.


Did you know that the public spaces within the city limits of Santa Barbara contain over 45,000 street, park and open space trees? That works out to about a half a tree for each citizen, or 1086 trees per square mile.

And despite the ubiquitous lavender blossoms that adorn the skyline and anoint the sidewalks in spring, not all of those trees are jacarandas. Tim Downey, City Arborist at the Parks and Recreation Department, told me that Santa Barbara's roster is incredibly diverse, boasting 456 varieties of evergreen, deciduous and palm trees. (Compared to Santa Monica's measly 350, we're like soooooo totally bitchen!) Tim attributes the great variety of trees to Santa Barbara's rich horticultural legacy and the foresight of people like A. Boyd Doremus (first superintendent of the Parks Department), Joseph Sexton, Francesco Franceschi, Owen Orpet and others.

Aside from the visionary zeal of rabid horticulturists past and present, we can thank our benign Mediterranean climate for the conditions that allow us to grow such a rich palette of plants. Within a short walk along downtown's State Street commercial corridor, you might encounter the near mystical polychromatic trunk of rainbow eucalyptus (Eucalyptus deglupta, aka Mindano Gum), exotic African tulip trees (Spathodea campanulata), California native trees like western redbud (Cercis occidentalis) and sycamore (Platanus racemosa), and what might be the northernmost specimen of Royal Palm (Roystonea regia). Much of this recent diversity was introduced through a series of downtown redevelopment projects spearheaded by landscape architect Bob Cunningham and his cracker jack crew at Arcadia Studio. (more about State St. landscaping)

While I have you here, lemme extol the virtues of trees that go beyond their natural beauty and ability to suck up CO2 and produce life-giving oxygen:

•Their shade invites us to sip a refreshing, frosty lemonade in the yard on hot days

•They cool streets and other paving to reduce the heat-island effect in cities, and make it so we can get into our cars without our bare thighs sizzling like a Shalhoob steak on the grill.

•Trees help reduce erosion by slowing and trapping surface water flow and by holding water on their foliage.

•And birds and other critters rely on them for habitat and food.

For The Kids

Which leads me to the National Arbor Day Foundation and the good works of Santa Barbara Beautiful, an organization founded in 1965 to raise funds for planting street and park trees. (See previous Edhat article)

Another invaluable service SBB makes happen is the Arbor Day Poster Contest, a spring event for fifth grade students in local school districts.

The program combines environmental awareness with the creative process in order to encourage good citizenship and a sense of community. Contest winners, parents and school officials are invited to City Hall to meet the mayor and City Council during the annual Arbor Day Proclamation.

Jacqueline Dyson, vice-prez of public relations, says that SBB has its hands full facilitating the Arbor Day events at a few elementary schools in Santa Barbara, but she wants to "encourage other schools in the region to get on board. The Arbor Day Foundation makes it easy, with starter kits for the poster contest, and curricula that art and science teachers can use to make the connection between trees, the environment, and the classroom."

If you'd like to help a local elementary school expand their earth-friendliness and community consciousness (and listen to the kids' giggles as they throw shovelfuls of dirt into freshly-dug tree pits), visit the Arbor Day Foundation website and find out how to get rolling. Arbor Day 2011 is on April 30, so now is the time to put out feelers at your school.

I'm not sure how I got from San Diego to Costa Mesa to West LA to Santa Barbara, but I hope you've enjoyed this little excursion.

I Need Help
While I have you here, I'd love a few ideas for new stories. Every two weeks I go through cold sweats -- they make my withdrawal from Fruit Loops seem like a spa weekend -- wondering what the hell I'm going to write about. Whatcha interested in? More Crimes Against Horticulture? Design inspiration? Cool plants? How to put more fiber in your diet? Give it up, wouldja?

Comments in order of when they were received | (reverse order)

 COMMENT 115666 agree helpful negative off topic

2010-10-23 04:57 PM

I loved this article! I am new to edhat, so I am not familiar with the scope of your writing, but this travelogue is great, and I would definitely like to see more of these. Also, how about special botanical things to see in the area somewhat beyond the usual stops such as the best autumn leaves in this area, succulent gardens in the winter, or wildflowers in the spring. Regarding wildflowers, I never know the right weekend to go to the Santa Ynez Valley to see wildflowers. Another idea is Walter Thomkins-type articles of botanical spots in the Santa Barbara area. In case you did not live in SB 25+ years ago, he had a column in the News Press about the history of locations in the area kind of like History 101 in the Independent only better. Definitely keep writing!


 COMMENT 115670 agree helpful negative off topic

2010-10-23 05:23 PM

Mitzie....Welcome....It's great fun and diverse and Billy's going to love you.

I agree we need more on Walter Thomkins and how Santa Barbara
began. I love his books and the history...


 COMMENT 115677 agree helpful negative off topic

2010-10-23 05:48 PM

Great article. Thank you. Have you visited a favourite of mine, the Huntington Gardens in San Marino? Also Fern Dell in Griffith Park can be an interesting walk through. Yes, after a visit to San Diego and L.A. we too are always glad to return to the peace of our home and the green landscape of Santa Barbara.


 COMMENT 115705 agree helpful negative off topic

2010-10-23 08:35 PM

Love the story, the art and landscape thing is sooo interesting to me at the moment. I'm trying to purchase a house and realize I'm choosing gardens instead. The first home had a wonderful garden but the bones of the house not so great. My second choice of home is terrific but I won't make an offer because the back yard is too shady (neighbors trees).
Any advice for what to look for in landscape design? So far no one has incorporated sculpture and art into the landscape dang it. If they had, my offer would be on the table.
What ever you choose to write about Billy has been great so far.


 COMMENT 115724P agree helpful negative off topic

2010-10-23 11:05 PM

Ninja horticulture? How to sneak inexpensive, but appropriate and good plants into inhospitable environments in town. Those tiny little holes in the commercial sidewalks, or in the center median islands... Where to get vast quantities of wildflower seeds to sow beside the roads, and the right time and way to sow them. (Carpinteria did this with California poppies, according to a friend -- they gave away free bags of seeds to anyone willing to scatter them by the roadside or bike paths.) Even better, how to persuade local governments to plant fruit trees for street trees or areas like the Fairview onramp. Their homage to orchards is lovely, but would have been far lovelier if they'd actually planted a real lemon or walnut orchard. etc.


 COMMENT 115732 agree helpful negative off topic

2010-10-24 07:33 AM

I hate to admit it, but I love your scorching exposes of bad gardening practices. I just pray you never visit my neighborhood.


 COMMENT 115735 agree helpful negative off topic

2010-10-24 07:43 AM

In fairness to a landscape "slipping neighbourhood". When money is tight and jobs disintegrate the yard is the first to slip. Food and rent come first. That's reality.


 SIMPLESIMON agree helpful negative off topic

2010-10-24 09:23 AM

Great article, Billy. Thank you. I didn't know about this "California Scenario". Looks like an awesome place to visit. Regarding your request for topics, how about introducing us to great landscape gardens like these? Also, the practical me says, split your articles to focus on one topic so that we can continue to get your wisdom weekly.


 COMMENT 115761 agree helpful negative off topic

2010-10-24 09:47 AM

This subject has probably already been done, however every time
I park in the lots on Calle Real as I open my car door (practically)
onto Natal Plum and Bougainvillea, which both have nasty thorns.
I think who in the world had this idea? Just wondering.....


 COMMENT 115771 agree helpful negative off topic

2010-10-24 10:42 AM

Billy, I'm pretty new to this site so you may have done these, but here are ideas: the parking lot on Carrillo @ the freeway is a great place, cool and pretty. What are the trees? Someone mentioned ugly gardens are a result of the economy; seeds are cheap and you could explain about preping the soil. Composting with kitchen scraps, leaves, etc, cost nothing. Raising some veggies, even in a tiny space, is rewarding. Succulents are super easy and often friends could break off a branch or two to share, no cost. I enjoy your column!


 COMMENT 115880 agree helpful negative off topic

2010-10-24 10:32 PM

Love the photos and the info. Welcome Mitzie, edhat is a neat place to be.


 BILLY GOODNICK agree helpful negative off topic

2010-10-25 09:46 AM

Your humble author, Billy Goodnick (alias Nicky Goodstix) here, having a Sally Field "You like me!" moment. There are some great suggestions above and I'm also getting some direct e-mails from readers. I'll keep compiling and respond en masse in my next column, then pick out the ones I can sink my teeth into the write about with as little effort and research as I can without insulting my readers. That's how it works around here.

And all you mooks who read Edhat and don't subscribe -- I'd call you a bunch of leaches, but I like you, so I won't. But DOOOOO consider helping support this fun and valuable website with a few bucks. You're getting something for free and the rest of the readers are subsidizing you. Help if you can.


 BONNER agree helpful negative off topic

2010-10-25 03:49 PM

I think it would have been nice if you included Goleta Valley Beautiful in the Arbor Day encouragements, as well as SBB. GVB has been adding 300 (I think, you'd have to check) trees a year to the GV and the volunteers always do Arbor Day presentations at local schools.
We're lucky to have two fine organizations in our midst.

What about articles that take you to a different nursery each week or whenever, and let readers know about them all, not just the fancy ones. Maybe you've already done this, not sure. Also Rare Fruit Tree guy out on western Cathedral Oaks, you know who I mean, can't think of his name right now.

Don' forget all of us readers on the outskirts of Santa Barbara, we're your fans too!


 COMMENT 116057 agree helpful negative off topic

2010-10-25 03:59 PM

Billy I love to read your, ahem, "constructive criticism" column subjects. I don't think you should do them every week, though. However, as a thought for one of those types, I have 3 nearby neighbors who have lawns and over-water - I'm talking about watering everyday, and so much so that water runs down the gutter; lots of run-off which I think is wasteful. Maybe you could do a column explaining how much water is plenty, and ways to have a friendly discussion with a neighbor to help them change their ways? However - if you do come to these houses / my neighborhood, you don't get to point out all the bad stuff at my house. ;-) (As I told my hubby, it's not that we're doing anything "wrong," it's just that we're not doing much.)


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