The big wide medians of San Vicente Boulevard in western Los Angeles had been lacking trees since the Red Car Streetcar rails were removed decades earlier. My colleague, Brent Green, had been wanting to add trees to the medians since he was a little kid, and then became intent on doing so after he became a renowned landscape designer in the region.

At about the same time, I was a nurseryman. In my work, it was not uncommon to dispose of a few items that were unsaleable. Sometimes there were entire crops of unsaleable plants; and in 1997, I needed to dispose of a group of coastal redwoods that had very minor kinks in their trunks.

That gave Brent an idea.

He wanted me to bring some of the trees to Los Angeles to plant them in the medians of San Vicente Boulevard just south of the Miracle Mile District. We were sort of skeptical about their ability to adapt to the climate; but were willing to give it a try, and possibly give the trees a second chance. We planned to install thirty coastal redwoods for Brent’s thirtieth birthday on January 18, 1998.

Well, the trees were not happy there, and did not last long. However, they were the first of what became an annual tradition of planting trees on Brent’s birthday, January 18. The number of trees is determined by Brent’s age for the respective year. For example, we planted thirty coastal redwood trees on his thirtieth birthday, and then planted thirty-one manna gum trees, Eucalyptus viminalis, on his thirty-first birthday, and so on.

After a few more years, there was not much space on San Vicente Boulevard, so Brent started planting street trees in the parkstrips of streets that could use more trees. The original trees in San Vicente Boulevard needed to be removed for the installation of the Metro Rail, but they were nice while they lasted.

This short video is about what the tradition has become now that Brent will be planting fifty birthday trees.



23 thoughts on “Birthday Trees

    1. Thank you. I would have liked to post a ‘neater’ link to it, but I am not very proficient with such things. The video is a few years old. There are others out there, but I did not copy them or find links to them.
      We were so unorganized when we planted the first groups of trees. When we planted them, we knew that they would not be there for long. The Metro has been in planning for years. Now that the tradition has affected the surrounding neighborhood, it is so unbelievable that it all started back with the original group of thirty redwoods. (Documentaries do not mention those first trees, and this one actually mentions that the tradition started on Brent’s thirty-fifth birthday.)

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      1. Brent and I have been competing in such weird ways since 1986. There are SO many weird similarities, and SO many opposites. When we were in school, he has as many trees at him mother’s home as I had at my mother’s home. He would sometimes plants a sapling of something so he would have more, but then two of something would die, so I would have more. It went back and forth like that for years. What makes it amusing is that his mother’s garden space is about half of the space in my mothers’ garden! His trees were the lanky sort. Mine were the broader sort. We both grew up in similar suburban neighborhoods, but he moved to a ‘junglow’ (jungle bungalow) closer to downtown Los Angeles and I moved to a rural region in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Yet, he planted more on his small and formerly bare city parcel than I planted on my densely forested ten acres. Seriously. You might see how much is there in the video!

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    1. We tried it in my neighborhood for my birthday half a year later, but it did not go over so well. Most of the trees were stolen and appeared in neighboring gardens. (I recognized the minor kinks in the trunks.) We tried it again the following year in Scott’s Valley, but determined that it was not as important locally as it was in Los Angeles. Besides, the middle of summer is not a good time to plant trees without reliable irrigation.


    1. Thank you. I can think of a few words to describe it, but those in Los Angeles who like the trees would disagree. In the beginning, it was wrong on a few different levels, but it did not stop us.


    1. Well, part of the reason we do not do this in my region is that we do not need many more trees. Much of my work is making arrangements for the removal of trees in urban areas. Adding trees is more important in particular neighborhoods in Los Angeles, where they are lacking.


    1. What is worse about stealing trees is that we are so pompous about our (perceived) wealth here. We can afford to live in a very expensive region, but can not afford to buy trees for our homes. People in less affluent neighborhoods of Los Angeles are likely to help us plant the trees, and are very protective of them once they are planted.

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