Horridculture – Plastic Is Forever

Ah, the memories.

Horticulturists are environmentalists by definition. Whether we grow horticultural commodities, install such commodities into landscape, maintain such landscapes and associated trees, or design such landscapes, the vegetation that we work with affects the environment. Many of us should take our innately significant environmental responsibilities more seriously than we do.

We should also be realistic about our environmentalism. For example, there is no problem with designing a landscape that attracts butterflies for a client who enjoys butterflies in the garden. However, we should not promote butterfly gardening as something that benefits the environment and ecosystem by distracting insects from native flowers that rely on them for pollination.

I have never been one of ‘those’ extreme environmentalists. I do not want to save all vegetation. Some trees are too hazardous to those in the landscape below. Some exotic species are too aggressively invasive within a natural ecosystem, and therefore detrimental to the environment. Planting a proper tree where it will be an asset is fun; but too many trees obscure sunlight.

Fake environmentalism made good environmentalism look bad, and is contrary to it. Associated sustainability has become a cheap fad to capitalize on. Sustainably grown produce is pointless relative to the fuel necessary to transport what is grown in remote places, and all the plastic that it gets wrapped in. The volume of plastic needed to make sustainability possible is baffling.

Our compost is not the best, but it is adequately composted. Except for eggshells, the only recognizable bits are non-biodegradable plastics that mistakenly got mixed in, such as small bits of cellophane from the cafeteria kitchens. The most prominently abundant are these small stickers that were originally affixed to individual and mostly sustainably grown fruits and vegetables.

Are so many bits of non-biodegradable plastic so necessary to demonstrate sustainability and environmentalism?


Horridculture – Fake Environmentalism

P90515Fake environmentalism is a HUGE topic, so for now, will be limited to fake environmentalism as justification for the eviction of homeless encampments.
The yellow triangle in the picture above was the site of the Hero’s Camp, which was more commonly known as Ross Camp, and located behind Ross Dress For Less in Gateway Plaza in Santa Cruz. It is gone now. This satellite image was taken by Google Maps prior to the development of the Camp. I did not get pictures of the camp while inhabited, but you have likely seen enough other camps in the news to imagine what it looked like.
It really was as big as it looks, and really did exhibit all the problems that you hear about in the news, although not to such an exaggerated degree. Not everyone there used syringes to inject illicit narcotics. Not everyone there was an alcoholic. Not everyone was violent, from somewhere else, or a criminal. This is not about such issues anyway. It is about how the two hundred or so unhoused people who lived here affected the environment.
Was there trash? Of course there was. Was it more than what two hundred people who live in homes generate? No. Houseless people do not generate as much trash as the housed, simply because they lack resources to purchase the commodities from which so much trash is generated. The houseless certainly do not waste as much as the housed. Their trash just happens to be more visible for outsiders who do not know any better to see.
Furthermore, what is so typically described and perceived as trash is actually the belongings of those who live in such camps. Without closets, cabinets or furniture, our belongings would look about the same, except much more voluminous. When we take just some of the belongings that we don’t want or need and put them out in front of our homes, it is a garage sale, and likely amounts to much more than individual homeless people own.
The satellite image from Google Maps below shows the neighborhood where my grandparents lived in Felton, less than seven miles north of where the picture above was taken. Their old home is right in the middle of the picture. There were not so many other homes there when they arrived, just as World War II was ending. They lived a relatively modest lifestyle, on a small suburban parcel. They were not concerned about the environment.
Why should they have been? Even now, the people who live in homes here can generate as much trash as they want to, and no one will complain about it. They can fill their homes with their belongings, and put them neatly away in closets, cabinets and drawers. There are alcoholics in this neighborhood, as well as a few who are addicted to illicit narcotics. Some are criminals. Some are violent. Few are native. Again, this is off the main topic.
None of that is visible in this satellite image anyway. What it shows instead is how the lifestyles of those who live in homes are more detrimental to the environment than the lifestyles of those who lack homes. This picture is the same scale as the picture above, so you can see that only a few homes would fit into an area comparable to that in which about two hundred unhoused people lived. Only a few people live in each of these few homes.
What that means is that two hundred people like those who lived at the Hero’s Camp live dispersed over a much larger area, on land from which trees and vegetation needed to be removed. They all live in homes that are made of wood derived from trees that grew in forests. These homes are furnished with synthetic plaster, carpet, paint, glass, vinyl, metals and all sorts of materials that needed to be quarried, processed or manufactured.
It doesn’t end there. These homes consume energy for heating, lighting and whatever else that gas and electricity are used for. Cars driven by those who live in homes are also constructed from raw materials, and then need fuel to function. Water is consumed as if it were not a very limited resource. Much of it gets mixed with soaps and detergents before going back into the environment. Chlorine volatilizes from chlorinated swimming pools.
Then there are the landscapes and gardens, the parts of domestic lifestyles that we actually believe to be beneficial to the environment. They contain exotic (non-native) plants that compete with native species, and interfere with natural ecological processes. Irrigation of the landscapes stimulates redwoods and accelerated decay of oaks. Soil amendments, fertilizers and some of the pesticides change the chemistry of the soil and ground water.
Just compare these two pictures. As bad as the mess at Hero’s Camp was, the two hundred people who lived there were less detrimental to the environment and the local ecosystem than those who live in just a few of the homes visible in the picture below. Those who claim to be concerned about the environment should be more concerned about the ecologically detrimental lifestyles of those who live in homes than those who lack homes.P90515+

Metallic Roses

P90203‘Sterling Silver’ and ‘Stainless Steel’ are two hybrid tea roses that were quite popular decades ago. ‘Copper’ and ‘Aluminum’ are not. However, I did happen to write a bit about the aluminum roses in the picture above on the Facebook page of Felton League on January 28, and included a link to an older article that featured a picture of copper roses. They are not at all relevant to horticulture, but are interesting nonetheless.

Felton League is an informational forum for the distinguished small group of displaced or socially outcast people and their friends in Felton, California. That is how it is described on Facebook. Those who are more directly familiar with us know us as a community group that not only advocates for the local homeless, but also provides compelling insight into homeless culture, and confronts the trend of animosity and hostility for anyone perceived to be homeless.

This is the post on Felton League from January 28:

Some of us participate in the River Cleanups here and elsewhere in Santa Cruz County. Some regularly collect trash for disposal throughout the year. One takes trash collection a step further by creating these metallic roses from some of the collected debris. They were featured in this article about garden art that was published in local newspapers between San Francisco and Beverly Hills in the summer of 2017; https://tonytomeo.com/2018/07/12/be-tactful-with-garden-art/ . (Not all of the articles used this illustration. The link is for the article as it was posted last July, about a year after it was published.) The copper roses of the original article were made from copper pipe. The newer silvery roses are made from flashing found in the San Lorenzo River. The thorny stems are made from scraps of fencing material that resembles a fine gauge of hog wire, that was found closer to Zayante Creek. The leaves are wired on with random bits of copper wire. These roses are often sold to tourists and local merchants to finance the banquets hosted by ‘Let’s Have Soup’ in Felton Covered Bridge Park.

Horridculture – Needle Mania!

P80919Throughout my career as a horticulturist, I have worked in more public landscapes than most. Some of these landscapes were in some of the most notorious neighborhoods of the San Francisco Bay Area and the Monterey Bay Area. Yes, I have found some rather strange items strewn about, including a few that necessitated telephone calls to local law enforcement. Yet, I have never once found a single used syringe.

Syringes are more commonly known as ‘needles’ by those who fear them. We are sometimes warned about them, particularly in areas where the sorts of people whom we are supposed to fear might have left them strewn about, whether or not these fearsome people actually use syringes. If found, such syringes are dangerous because they are used to inject illicit narcotics, and are consequently contaminated with the blood of those who use them. Such blood is always assumed to be infected with any variety of the communicable diseases that afflict all fearsome people, and is assumed to stay infectious for all eternity.

When I consider some of the situations that I have worked in, I believe that I am fortunate to have never found a syringe. On rare occasion, I have been presented with pouches and ‘sharps’ containment boxes containing syringes so that I can dispose of them properly. I actually expect to find a few at a site that I will be inspecting this next week or so, which will be a new experience for me. Caution is justified.

I know that syringes are out there, and that they are dangerous. So are rattlesnakes. I have seen and killed many rattlesnakes. They used to be quite common at the farm, and are still somewhat common at home. I know people who have been bitten by rattlesnakes, even though we all know to be careful out in regions where we expect them to be. Signs warning those who might not be familiar with rattlesnakes are posted in county and state parks inhabited by rattlesnakes. People are bitten by rattlesnakes much more commonly than people are accidentally pricked by used syringes. Accidental ‘needle pricks’ are actually extremely rare. For those unfortunate enough to experience such an injury, infection with any one of the communicable diseases that we all fear is very rare. Contrary to popular belief, infectious blood does not stay infections forever.

Needle Mania is really the most infectious affliction associated with used syringes. In a nearby Community, several people are so obsessed with discarded syringes that they have developed a ‘needle watch’ online, in order to monitor the number of syringes found, and the locations of where they were found. Some like to post pictures of the syringes that they find, sort of like trophies. Some people have found several syringes; which is quite commendable for those who live and work mostly inside. (I spent my entire career outside, but have never found a single syringe.) The numbers of syringes found is disturbing. So are the many pictures of syringes laying out in public spaces.

A few pictures are perplexing as well. One locally found syringe was pictured laying out neatly on a serpentinite outcropping. Another that was found in spring on the bank of the San Lorenzo River was laying on top of fallen autumn leaves of quaking aspen, Populus tremuloides. Neither serpentinite nor quaking aspen are endemic to this region.

A syringe was recently found in my neighborhood! As unfortunate and disturbing as this news was, it is not completely unexpected. Syringes can be discarded anywhere, and are probably likely to be discarded on isolated rural roads.

The neighbor who found the syringe believes that it is a problem that is serious enough to justify posting pictures of it all over the neighborhood! These pictures include a description of where the syringe was found, and instructions of what to do to curtail suspicious activity. They are everywhere! They were originally just stapled to trees, utility poles, mail boxes, fences, barns . . . and anything that a staple would stick into. Now that they have been out in the weather for a while, some are blowing about in the roadway and collecting in ditches. When they were first posted, a few were within view from every point on the road. More posters were added to replace those that blew away. These posters are now a prominent feature of our Community landscape.

I do not doubt that the discarded syringe is a problem for the Community. However, the pictures of it posted so prominently and abundantly throughout the neighborhood landscape are unsightly, trashy and unbecoming of such a safe and idyllic neighborhood.P80919K

Horridculture – DEATH

P80815KIt is quite natural. Death, I mean. Every living thing does it at one time or another. Even the oldest bristlecone pines that live for thousands of years eventually do it. The Monterey pine in this picture did it quite efficiently. The three crows perched on top make it look extra dead. You know, not merely dead, but very dead. If this tree were in my own garden, I would be totally saddened by its death, but there is nothing that I could do about it.
The smaller dark objects suspended in the now dead limbs are pine cones. Monterey pine starts to produce pine cones at a young age, and of course, produces more with age and increasing size. As mature trees begin to deteriorate, they produce even more cones as they concentrate their resources into seed production for the next generation. This elderly tree knew that death was imminent. After all, death is natural.
Compared to other trees that are native to the neighborhood, such as valley oaks that live for centuries, and coastal redwoods that live for thousands of years, Monterey pines are ‘short-lived’. They live only a century or so, and may not live half that long in urban situations, particularly in more arid climates. They are endemic to the Monterey Peninsula, where they live within an ecosystem that, prior to urban development, naturally burned at least every century or so, before they got to be too old. In fact, their natural life cycle was directly relevant to how combustible the forests were, and how efficiently fires spread through them; but that is another topic.
The main concern here is that death is natural. The tree in this picture died a natural death. It can not be blamed on global warming, climate change, big industry, the President that we all seem to hate even though enough of us voted for him to become president, or my old car that, after almost half a century, is still not a hybrid. We can complain about death all we want, but we can never stop it.

More Misplaced ‘Environmentalism’

P80214Nature has been getting by just fine for a very long time before humans started to interfere. It has survived all sorts of catastrophes literally longer than anyone can remember. It was here when dinosaurs were exterminated by a meteorite or comet or vulcanism or whatever catastrophic yet natural event finished them off. In fact, Nature was here for all of the few mass extinction events of the very distant past, including the Permian – Triassic Extinction, which only about 4% of life on earth survived! We all know that “It’s not nice to fool with Mother Nature.”, or serve her margarine that tastes like real butter; but we should also realize that it is rather presumptuous to think that we can be more efficient with correcting all environmental damage. Very often, it is best to let nature do what nature does best.

For example, forest fires are perfectly natural. They are more frequent now because of human activity; but they are less extensive, likewise because of human activity. Humans contain fires that would naturally burn much larger areas. Preventing vegetation from burning allows it to accumulate and become more combustible. If deprived of fire long enough, vegetation within ecosystems that rely on fire as part of their natural restorative cycle eventually deteriorates, or become so combustible that when it does burn, its seed gets incinerated.

Many box elders along the San Lorenzo River have been dying for the past many years. We have not identified the pathogen associated with the necrosis, but it is probably a naturally occurring pathogen that is an intricate component to the natural ecosystem, (although after last winter, an inordinate number of box elders succumbed at the same time). Regardless, trees succumbed and fell. A significant void developed within the collective forest canopy on the Eastern Bank, near the Graham Hill Road Bridge. ‘Environmentalists’ wanted to ‘help’.

These new trees in the picture were planted within the area vacated by a few deceased box elders. The closer of the two is a coast live oak. The other is a bay laurel. There are a few more beyond those in the picture. Native vegetation that developed ‘naturally’ but happened to be in the way was removed to facilitate this project. To prevent native deer from damaging the trees as deer would do ‘naturally’ the trees were imprisoned in small cylindrical cages. Because the trees did not grow there and disperse their roots ‘naturally’, they must be irrigated until they can survive on what they get ‘naturally’ from rain.

The irony of all this is that native vegetation that was growing ‘naturally’ was removed to install ‘unnatural’ nursery grown trees intended to restore a ‘natural’ ecosystem that was already doing what it does ‘naturally’. Although native, the coast live oak ‘naturally’ prefers to avoid riparian environments such as this. It ‘naturally’ prefers a more exposed and drier situation. Bay laurel trees live there ‘naturally’, which is why a few had already started to grow from seed. These seedlings would not have needed to be caged or watered, but were removed to plant the new trees. Yes, bay laurels that would have survived on their own were replaced by bay laurels that must be watered and protected. Willows and cottonwoods that were quite prolific in the area were likewise removed, although many more remain lower on the bank of the River.

In the background, in the upper right corner of the picture, the bright yellow flowers of an Acacia dealbata can be seen. It is a seriously invasive exotic species that displaces native vegetation. Although it is impossible to exterminate the species, this individual tree that has been dispersing profuse seed into the San Lorenzo River for many years, really should be removed. Even if nothing were to be installed to replace it, the removal would benefit the ecosystem. Nature would have no problem finding native trees that would like to occupy that spot.

Invasive Exotics – Acacia dealbata

P80211Every invasive exotic (non-native) species has a story of how it got here.

Blue gum and red gum were imported to produce the timber needed for railroad ties. Many annual specie were forage crops for grazing cattle. Some got here by stowing away as seed on or inside cattle or other animals. Supposedly, mustard seed was broadcast by those traveling on the El Camino Real so that other travelers could find the route later. Then there are all sorts of invasive exotics that were imported simply because people liked to grow them in their gardens.

It is difficult to imagine why anyone would import any of the weedy specie of broom (Genista specie) or the sloppy species of pampas grass (Cortaderia jubata). It might have made sense at the time, before more appealing specie were introduced, or before less invasive modern cultivars were developed. Black locust has always been, and continues to be a pretty tree, long after more colorful and less invasive cultivars were developed. They were brought to California by prospectors from the East at a time when no one knew or cared how invasive they would be.

Acacia dealbata was likewise imported simply because it is a pretty tree, before anyone knew how it could naturalize and displace native vegetation and wildlife. Now it grows very rampantly in utility easements where other vegetation has been eradicated. Not only does it interfere with the efficiency of utility cables, but it is also combustible if ignited by sparks from electrical cables. Yet, it is so colorful and pretty in the middle of winter that it is not easy to dislike. Unfortunately, environmentalism is not what it used to be, and some so called environmentalists want it to be protected simply because it is ‘alive’.P80211+


P80112++There will be no more updates after this last one for the dead box elders that had been leaning onto the historic Felton Covered Bridge. ( https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/135014809/posts/747 ) They are gone. A pile of logs and some debris are all that remain.

Because the area is a protected riparian zone, the remaining debris and logs may have been left there intentionally, as an important component to the ecosystem. Nearby dead trunks that will not reach the Bridge when they fall also remain, as well as many other larger dead box elders several yards upstream.

For now, the Felton Covered Bridge is reasonably safe from falling trees.

We can only hope it stays that way.

Environmentalism has a way of complicating things.

Environmentalism should be more concerned with prioritizing the natural ecosystem than preserving vegetation that is interfering with it. Much of the exotic (non-native) underbrush and even a few exotic trees should be eliminated to allow at least some of the displaced native vegetation to recover. Where necessary and appropriate, environmentalism must also make accommodations for safety within an innately hazardous natural setting that happens to be very accessible to the public. More of the dead box elders should be removed or at least cut down to reduce the risk of falling limbs to those visiting the adjacent Felton Covered Bridge Park.

Preservation of assets like the historic Felton Covered Bridge is also important. Trees that are likely to damage the bridge should not be salvaged merely because they are within the protected riparian zone. Because the Felton Covered Bridge is such a landmark for tourists, the view of the Bridge is an important asset as well. Vegetation that would obscure this view should therefore be managed, so that it does not eventually obscure the view as it regenerates within the area vacated by the now absent box elders. There is nothing unnatural about open spaces. Old photographs demonstrate how visible the Felton Covered Bridge had been in the past, and how the flood of 1982 eliminated much of the obscuring vegetation within the riparian zone in a very natural way.

In many situations, planting new trees to replace those that are now gone is actually more unnatural than natural. It certainly does not contribute to the efficiency of a natural ecosystem. The installation of new sycamores, coast lives oaks and bay trees adjacent to the nearby Graham Hill Road Bridge are superfluous to new tree seedlings that appeared naturally in the area vacated by fallen box elders. They were planted with soil amendment, fertilizer and a synthetic polymer gel to retain moisture, and then protected from deer with stakes and mesh cages. They require unnatural supplemental irrigation until they get established, and are so close to each other and other trees, that they will become an unnaturally crowded thicket as they mature. There is nothing natural about such installations!

Nor are such installations inexpensive! They require resources that could be more responsibly allocated to more practical projects.

Environmentalism is another one of those very important concepts that has been compromised by extremism.P80112+++04