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Nyssa sylvatica

Along with the Hawthorn, another underappreciated tree in the Bay Area is Nyssa sylvatica, Tupelo. It’s not a flashy tree for much of the year, so it’s not well known around here. It’s slow growing, but in return it is long-lived, has strong branches that rarely need pruning, and its roots rarely cause damage. It handles drought and poor drainage. The regular species (the photo below) is a little nondescript but the cultivar ‘Wildfire’ (above) has red in its new spring growth. Both species and cultivar have beautiful fall color. Supposedly they can drop dried fruit, but I’ve never seen that happen. An added bonus is that whenever I see one I hear Tupelo in my head, one of my favorite Nick Cave songs.

The three in the photo above are in their third year. The one below is about ten years old. It’s the first one I ever planted, in a garden that was at one time known as the garden of death. Twelve years ago during a major remodeling one of the workers parked his Hummer in the front yard all winter long and compacted the soil so badly it became the type of clay you’d use to make a pot rather than grow plants, the heaviest clay I’ve ever seen. Almost everything died when they first planted. When we were hired, we found standing water would form anywhere we dug a hole. But the Nyssa never seemed to mind. It has grown slowly but steadily in the spot where a plum tree had been unable to survive. It looks after itself better than almost any tree I know.

Flowering Hawthorn

My parents front garden has a Hawthorn tree that makes a beautiful show of flowers every year. It almost flowers too well; I like to see the green leaves along with the white flowers but the leaves can be nearly completely covered.

I don’t know a whole lot about Hawthorns, though I grew up with this one. They seem underappreciated and under planted in the Bay Area. I guess they can be prone to fire blight. Gophers like the roots and ate the only one I’ve personally planted. But my parents’ one has grown without trouble for over thirty years. It’s my favorite element in the entire garden, ahead of the plants I chose and planted, the various ceramic sculptures, or the wall and patio I built.

A few more photos from the front garden are below. (more…)

The Tule Tree

TuleTree

Happy new year. I’ve been on a trip to Oaxaca, skipping out on a lot of the rain and mudslides we’ve been having. I’ll probably have some posts related to that at some point — among other things a sinkhole opened in one of my gardens where EBMUD punctured a storm drain — but for now I’ll be posting about Oaxaca. Its stonework, ruins, art, and plants are the stuff DryStoneGarden dreams are made of.

TuleTrunk

One of the first things I did was visit the Tule Tree, a Montezuma Cypress with the world’s widest tree trunk, 46 feet across at its widest point, 147 feet total in diameter. I recommend clicking on the photo to get the full size view. The people in the left corner give a sense of scale.

TuleChurch

The tree is beside a church in the center of a town. One legend says it was planted 1400 years ago by a priest of the Aztec wind god, another legend says it was a walking stick planted by a king or god. More recently, someone planted hollyhocks, roses, and a lawn around it, creating a distinct ‘world’s biggest ball of twine’ vibe. The topiary collection includes a dinosaur, a teddy bear, and kissing ducks.

TuleDucks

TuleTrunk1

But in spite of that, a 1400 year old tree has a presence powerful enough to overcome any indignity presented by its surroundings. The trunk is truly superlative.

TuleTrunk2

Tule2

And even more than the trunk, the canopy is magnificent, like an entire forest in a single tree. The branches droop down nearly to the ground, giving a wonderful sense of enclosure, and the trunks rise up like the clustered columns of a gothic cathedral.

Tule1

I’ve been in groves that felt like a cathedral, but I’d never had that feeling from a single tree.

Tule3

Tree, Line by Zander Olsen

I really like this photo by a photographer from the UK. It’s great how it plays with my eye, but also how it seems to satirize or exploit the practice of painting tree trunks white. He has more photos on his website.

The Tree Museum

The Tree Museum by Enzo Enea

The Tree Museum by Enzo Enea

While I’m posting about the value of trees, here is someone who really values his trees. Swiss landscape architect and tree collector Enzo Enea has created what he calls a tree museum for his collection. Explains Enea:

“This is a collection of trees I’ve gathered over a span of about 20 years. They come from construction sites; they would have been cut down to make way for new buildings. I needed to build a space to display them all and I wanted the trees to be seen as objects, so I set them off against sandstone.”

Inhabitat has details of the museum, World Landscape Architect has a video interview, and Arch Daily has photos of many of the trees. It reminds me of the work of Myoung Ho Lee, who makes photos of trees with a giant canvas hanging behind them. Lee’s work showed up on various blogs last year, including DryStoneGarden; the tree museum seems to be getting a similar, well-deserved run. Some of the trees are very cool, including one that is full of staples from decades of serving as the town bulletin board.

I really like the combination of the walls and stone, and if I lived just a little closer to Zurich, I’d go check it out. There are few things in the world better than a tree with a backdrop that showcases its character.

The Tree Museum by Enzo Enea

The Tree Museum by Enzo Enea

The Real Estate Value of Trees

$195,140 worth of birches?

$195,140 worth of birches?

We once had to do a lot of talking to convince a client that he didn’t want to chop down a healthy live oak that was just beginning to develop the kind of dramatic architecture that can’t be purchased with anything other than time. Since then, I’ve been wanting a dollar value for what a tree can add to a property, a number that’s easily cited and perhaps easily dismissed, but undeniably monetary and specific. A number like $8,870, the number that a recent study came up with after looking at how the presence or absence of street trees affected the sale prices for homes sold in east Portland during 2006-7. (The houses with trees also sold an average of 1.7 days quicker.) It’s obviously one of those statistics which can’t be applied too literally, but the researchers seem to have made an effort to account for some of the other variables that might surround the real estate sales. And though it is somewhat mercenary and doesn’t account for the many environmental and aesthetic benefits of trees and there probably isn’t a direct causal relationship, it might help people appreciate their trees more. What homeowner could hear that stat and not go right out to get a street tree? Personally, I’m sure I’ll cite the number at some point in the future, possibly to our landlord who knows that Anita and I are responsible for adding six street trees to our block. Shouldn’t that get us $53,220 credit towards our rent?

In a somewhat related note, I’ve always liked this planting of birches in my neighborhood and this post seems like the most reasonable time to mention it. The planting has an impressive total of 22 birches, which is 19 more than anyone else ever has. I’m pretty sure the birches count as ‘good overall tree cover,’ rather than as individual $8,870 trees, but there’s no question they make the house more valuable and desirable. The trees do the sun-in-winter, shade-in-summer thing for the house, and the planting always looks remarkably good, even when the understory needs maintenance. Designers talk about being bold or committed; 22 birches shows a serious level of commitment. Props to whoever planted them.

And in an unrelated note, the New York Times did a feature on Humphrey Slocombe, the ice cream store I mentioned a couple of posts back. The article’s a little heavy on the ‘wacky San Francisco’ angle, but then the ice cream parlor is actually pretty wacky and it’s hard to imagine it existing somewhere other than San Francisco. As an explanation for the unusual flavors, the proprietor says, “I just got to the point that I felt I’d have to kill myself if I ever made another crème brûlée or warm chocolate cake again.” Haven’t we all.

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