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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’ve 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.

The Living Bottle Tree

bottle tree

Bottle Tree in November

I’m intrigued by the Southern and African tradition of making bottle trees to trap evil spirits, but living in California I don’t know much about it and I hadn’t ever seen one in person, so I was pleased to discover one in my neighborhood. It’s in front of a house with various symbols painted on the front door and the utility box, and while I was taking the pbotos a guy whizzed past me on a bicycle and said, “Careful! They’re witches!”

May

June

June

June

Felder Rushing has a great collection of photos and a short history of the practice. And there’s a massive flickr collection. Traditionally, it seems to have been done with a dead tree or with sticks stuck in the ground; Crape Myrtles are the iconic species. Nowadays many are constructed of metal or some other material, rather than an actual tree. Very few seem to be from a tree that is still alive.

The Utility Box

The Utility Box

I don’t want to mess with any witch juju, but it seems okay to show the utility box which has the same stars and moons as the front door. It never would have occurred to me to adorn a utility box. It’s surprisingly pleasing.

The Bee Tree

‘…a hole in back you could put your fist in, if it were a small fist and you wanted to put it there…’ Hemingway, A Natural History of the Dead

The last few weeks we’ve been working in a yard that has a wild bee hive in an old silver maple. Apparently, they vanish each winter and a big, noisy swarm returns in the spring. On cold days, the hole in the trunk steams faintly. The bees are mellow in the morning, but in the late afternoon they make a loud buzz like every cartoon representation of an angry bee swarm that I’ve ever seen. It’s a little disconcerting, though they are far too busy to pay any attention to me.

I bet there’s some nice honey in there, but I’m sure not going in after it.

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