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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?


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