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The Trees of Shoreline Park-Grayscale
updated: Dec 14, 2013, 2:00 PM

By Billy Goodnick

We have a lot of hardwood floors. I'd been putting off cleaning them, convincing myself that tackling my heavy workload trumped a date with a bucket of Murphy's Oil Soap. But there I found myself one recent afternoon, sponge mop in hand, doing the deed. While the floors dried, I put everything else on hold, loaded Biff the Wonder Spaniel into the car and took the pooch to sniff his way around Shoreline Park. "I'll clear my mind," I told myself, "and just do nuthin' but walk with my furry, fluffy buddy."

Good intentions, lousy execution. As soon as we passed the playground, I was reminded of some of my favorite trees in Santa Barbara's park system. So much for just spacing out for an hour - my horticultural senses were on high alert.

I'm a big fan of the complexities of Alice's planting scheme, but that doesn't stop me from appreciating Shoreline's simple palette of stately trees, green grass and grand vistas. Soon I was feeling guilty because rather than just have some daddy time with Biff, my attention was drawn away by the trees and my iPhone. I tapped on my all-time favorite iPhone camera app, MPro, so I could shoot black and white, the perfect medium for appreciating form and scale in plants.

So here's my tip of the hat to the arboreal splendor of Shoreline Park.

Shoreline is pretty much just trees and grass these days. With a few exceptions, most of the flowering shrubs and ground covers have been overrun by kikuyu grass. But it's those uniform expanses of turf that set up a perfect contrast for the grace and mass of the trees randomly populating the space. Shoreline Park was developed in the mid-60s, so some of these trees are going on 40-plus years old and have the character you'd expect. Eucalyptus cling to the top of the bluff and stocky Monterey Cypress anchor the dark end of the green spectrum. Across the street, Mexican fan palms mark the boundary between the grand scale of the park and the cozy gardens of the Mesa's snug lots.

Whenever I see this Norfolk Island Pine (Araucaria heterophylla) it reconnects me to my horticultural start, my fascination with bonsai trees. Years of onshore winds have coaxed this typically straight tree (like the historic Tree of Lights at the downtown Ralph's) to this exquisite form, like a geisha caught mid-curtsey.

Eucalyptus trees get a bad rap but it's not their fault - they're just following their genetic instructions. Most of them get really big but people ignore that fact and stuff them into small spaces where they can't help causing trouble. But their massive scale makes them perfect candidates for big open spaces like Shoreline Park. What struck me most about this specimen is that no one has tried to shape it into something it doesn't want to be. My joy comes from the exquisite balance of the sinuous branches and the play between dense foliage and the voids. This aesthetic can be scaled down for smaller shrubs and trees in your own garden by leaving the gas-powered hedge trimmers alone and picking up your hand clippers, but only when necessary. Otherwise, find the right size plant for the space and let it do its funky thang.

It might seem as if all you have to do is put a stick in the ground anywhere in Santa Barbara and it will flourish. But, inevitably, where there's life, there's also death, even if it's just a few desiccated branches on this pine tree. Dead or not, I find beauty in the flowing lines of the tree's skeleton. Whether it's because the park crews are too busy to trim them off, or better yet, consciously decided to let them be, thank you. Nature isn't a neatness contest.

When I walk around with a camera, it changes my experience of the place I'm visiting. When I'm conscious of that insidious, Facebook-induced spell to photo-document everything I do, I force myself to put the camera away and just "be here now". But on this day, the camera prevailed, driving me to look for vistas and details I might have missed. Take this close-up of Melaleuca bark, showing off its layers of papery covering, standing out like sails.

Human evolution has produced a set of neurons that create an appreciation for patterns and I'm all for it. I walk past palm trees everyday, usually seeing just the trunks as their canopies stretch out of sight. But on this day I looked up just at the right time to find a perfect alignment between the fronds and the sun.

Can I get a little more philosophical? On Biff's and my return lap to the car we passed the playground again. Zooming in, I captured this delightful play of light and shadow from the "stockade" that surrounds the space. Boy, did I feel artsy! Then it occurred to me that what we call utility poles - like the thousands cluttering our streets so we can watch Miley twerk in our living rooms - were once living trees somewhere far away.

Not all the tree action is happening overhead. My first exposure to the gnarled roots of coral trees (Erythrina sp.) was when I lived in LA and marveled at the broad median running down San Vincente Boulevard through Brentwood. Hailing from South Africa, Erythrinas not only put on a spectacular, eye- popping show with their red or orange hooked flowers - there's also the relentless power of their roots bulging and intertwining along the surface.

When our son, Cosmo, was small, Dr. Seuss topped our list of favorite bedtime books. I didn't give much thought to the good doctor's whimsical trees, other than to see them as yet another unique expression of his psychedelic universe. But when I learned that he lived and worked in the San Diego area, I immediately thought, "Inspired by EUCS!" Just off the western border of Shoreline Park is this delightful dance of eucs right off the pages of If I Ran the Zoo.

I'm cheating with these next two color pictures, but they're in my Shoreline Park archive and this seems like a great time to unpack them. When the clouds are just right and the winter sunset is being kind, there's nowhere like the edge of the continent to behold a flaming sky.

So next time you finish scrubbing the floors and need to get out of the house, grab a dog (or a human) you love and enjoy some trees.


Billy Goodnick is a nice guy who knows a lot about plants and garden stuff.


Looking for design ideas and cool plants? Subscribe to Billy's e-mail newsletter by dropping him a line at billygoodnick@yahoo.com


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