Boom! Zap! Wow! Bam! Zing!

P90630P90630+P90630++P90630+++P90630++++Batman and Robin were here!
. . . well, not quite. It is decoration for summer camp. We never know what we will find in the landscapes that we maintain here. Those who work at camp arrive before guests, so that they can get ready, and of course, to decorate. Guests only started to arrive two weeks ago. It makes our work more interesting, as we try to work around the traffic and events, but it is SO gratifying to see so many guests enjoy the facilities that we maintain!
Those who work at camp enjoy being here too. It is obvious in all the work they put into preparation. It gets pretty wild and colorful, as I was reminded when I found what had been done in a grove of coast live oak just outside of one of the main auditoriums. Last year, I pruned and groomed the trees to expose their naturally sculptural trunks. I thought they were rather exemplary; but apparently, there was some room for improvement.
There is more to the wardrobe of a well rounded tree than mere ‘trunks’. One might select stylish attire such as this. Really though, I am not certain if this tree is feeling ‘Absolutely Fabulous’ or totally embarrassed.P90630+++++
This one went for an old fashioned veil.P90630++++++
English ivy on the ground below the grove is wearing too much makeup.P90630+++++++
It is not really makeup of course. It is paint from this mysteriously hovering door . . . as if that somehow makes more sense. It was locked.P90630++++++++
This one is more my style, and it has a window. There is no need to open it to see what is outside . . . or inside.P90630+++++++++
If neither of those are good enough, there are plenty of others to choose from.P90630++++++++++

Utilitarian Landscape

P90505I am no designer. I am merely a horticulturist. I grow things, and I know how things should be grown in landscape situations.

My colleague Brent Green is a landscape designer, as well as a horticulturist. He knows how things should be grown in landscape situations too, but more importantly, he knows how to assemble the landscapes that they grow in. He creates the sort of landscapes that most people think that all horticulturists strive for. (A few pictures of his home garden can be found in a former article, as well as another similar article that it links to: .)

Brent and I have two completely different sets of standards for landscape design, to say the least. His ideal landscapes are very lush and inviting, with abundant color and fragrance. Mine are very simple and structured, with abundant fruits and vegetables. He strives to bring the ambiance of wild jungles into very urban settings. I try to instill formality and structure into the forests. Yet, we both agree that landscapes must be functional.

That means that landscapes must work for those using them, whatever they are using them for. Almost all of Brent’s clients use their landscapes as extensions of their homes, so want them to function as such.

I do not design landscapes, but I do happen to work in some. Most are in public spaces, and some are comparable to athletic fields. They function very differently from those in residential situations.

The unexpected way that these three small redwoods are functioning in this landscape was just too amusing to not get a picture of. I have no idea where all these wet suits came from, or why they are hung in this particularly prominent location, but it is the last thing I expected to encounter here.

Horridculture – Slurry

p90130This is likely the worst illustration that I have ever used. It is sort of what it looks like; a mud puddle. What I mean by ‘sort of’ is that this is no ordinary mud. It is a now solidified slurry that was rinsed from a concrete delivery truck. Yes, solidified, right there next to an embankment covered with carpet roses. The curb near the top of the picture is where the embankment starts. The small pile of debris to the upper left is some of what I was pruning from the roses. There was another solidified puddle of slurry just a few yards away. They were just dumped there as if no one would notice.

What makes this even more infuriating is that there is a sign on the main gate into the site, as well as a few others throughout the site, explaining to everyone coming and going that they must wash mud or other crud from their vehicles before leaving the site, so that they leave nothing on the roadway outside. This refers mainly to mud on the tires, but really includes anything that makes a mess. There are washing stations within the site for those who must wash their tires before leaving. There is also a site for slurry such as this, that can not be rinsed into culverts that drain into the adjacent creeks. The management of the project did everything necessary to prevent this sort of thing from happening. Yet, here it is.

A smaller but more destructive puddle of slurry was dumped into my downtown planter box by tile setters working in an adjacent shop. That mess needed to be broken apart and removed, but could not be separated from the perennials that is flowed around before solidifying. All of the canna foliage, some nasturtiums and some of the aloes were destroyed.

The insensitivity is ridiculous. I could not imagine leaving debris from pruning roses where the new concrete was installed, as if no one would notice. Yet, such disregard for landscaped areas is quite common. That is why trees that are to be salvaged on a construction site need to be fenced. Even with fencing, they are very often damaged or ruined by those operating machinery. Wouldn’t that be comparable to an arborist cutting a tree down in the most efficient manner, even if it fell onto an adjacent house?

Horridculture – Three Is A Magic Number

P81219We learned it young from Schoolhouse Rock. Those of us who studied Landscape Design were compelled to learn why, and assume that it is always true.
Well, I am not a landscape designer. I am just a horticulturist and arborist. I can see why three is the best number for groups of trees, and that five is probably the second best option for larger groups, followed by seven, and then nine, and so on. I sort of understand why two, four, six, eight and so on are not so desirable. However, these rules are not absolute.
When I was a kid, many suburban front yards were outfitted with three European white birch trees. Such groups were typically in a corner of the rectangular yards, just outside of the curvacious mowing strips that were designed to make the rectangular spaces seem to be more irregular than they really were. Individually, the groups of three birches were appealing. Collectively, they were cliché. They were supposed to look more ‘natural’; but there is nothing natural about contrived groups of three trees, especially when it is so prevalent. That is not how they grow in forests.
Now, although I am no landscape designer, I do happen to know that good landscape design is compatible with the architecture of the building that it is associated with.
Early American architecture really should be landscaped in the Early American style. This might seem to be simple, just because Early American landscapes are simple and utilitarian, with most of the plant material at a safe distance from the buildings. The difficulty is that such landscapes are very symmetrical, with paired shrubbery and trees, and several paired and evenly spaced trees flanking roadways. The left matches the right. That means quite a bit of twos, fours, sixes, eights and so on. Early American landscape design developed at a time when nature was something to be dominated and utilized in the most efficient manner possible. Not many landscape designers comprehend this philosophy, or would adapt to it if they did understand.
The group of three dwarf Alberta spruce in the picture below was not intended to be a rebellious expression of formality. As you can see, it really is a group of three. Yet, they are also evenly spaced in a straight row that parallels the adjacent wall. Without pruning, they will always be very symmetrically conical. Cool!P81219+

Time Travel

P81124KOne never knows what strange artifacts might be found out in public landscapes. It is amusing enough to find items discarded or simply misplaced long ago by former occupants of a home out in a private home garden. Public landscapes are even more interesting, since they collect debris and artifacts from many more people. Some landscapes have been doing so for a long time.
Besides litter, the most commonly found artifacts are sporting equipment. Frisbees, baseballs, tennis balls, soccer balls, volleyballs and such are commonly lost in dense vegetation. Golf clubs, baseball bats and tennis rackets sort of make one wonder. Chew toys are sometimes left by dogs who go after them, but then return with something they perceive to be more interesting.
Landscapes that are near roadways often feature car parts that might have fallen out of cars as they drove by, as well as a few that cars could not have driven by without. Obviously stolen items, such as purses and wallets, often surrounded by a few credit cards that they likely contained sometimes appear. Stolen mail might fit into that category.
I have yet to find anything as interesting as tickets to a San Jose Sharks game, a big bag of money, Elvis, a purple dinosaur from another plant or a flying saucer that brought it here. However, I have found evidence of time travel!
A retaining wall that holds back an embankment above a parking lot at work was apparently constructed by Mike Menard in 1982, who left his name and the date inscribed into the concrete on top of the wall. That by itself is nothing too remarkable. What IS remarkable is that an adjacent retaining wall was constructed four hundred years later, and three hundred and sixty-four years from now, in 2382!P81124K+

Six on Saturday: Rock Concert


Designing a landscape is too artistic for me. I am just a horticulturist. I just grow things, and sometimes tell others how to grow them in a landscape.

Rocks sometimes get in the way when I grow things. They are not something that I often consider to be an asset to the sorts of landscapes that I typically work with; although I have worked with some landscapes in which boulders and stones work very well. I happen to think that they work well in this landscape. I did not design it of course. I merely helped with the installation of new plant material, and the salvage of old plant material.

1. The Rock Stars! It was not easy getting them here!P80407
2. The Concert Venue: This is not a big landscape, but happens to be in a prominent location.P80407+
3. Blue flowers were added in front, off the left edge of the previous picture. I do not remember what species this is, but it is common nowadays.P80407++
4. Escallonia was added just behind the blue flowers in the picture above. I do not remember what cultivar this escallonia is.P80407+++
5. ‘Winter Orchid’ Wallflower was added in front of the Rock Stars, just off the left edge of the first picture. It might be ‘Winter Party’. I do not remember.P80407++++
6. Yellow Freesia is a remnant from the original landscape. There are red freesias too. We like them too much to remove them.P80407+++++
This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate:

Median Landscapes

P80311Medians are nice on the widest of boulevards. They break up the expansiveness of otherwise contiguous lanes. They make a four lane boulevard seem more like a pair of two lane roadways. Berms and other obstacles within medians limit the potential for head on collisions with traffic from opposite sides of the medians. Trees shade and cool some of the pavement when the weather gets warm. Besides all that, medians that are modestly landscaped simply look nice.

Notice that I said ‘modestly’ landscaped. There really is no need to get carried away with landscapes in medians. No one is really looking too closely at them anyway. People are driving past them, and really should be paying more attention to the road ahead rather than what is blooming to the side. Even passengers who are not driving probably are not seeing much of what goes into median landscapes. Color in such landscapes is nice; but no one cares if the color is provided by plants that are expensive and consumptive to maintain, or plants that can more or less survive on their own. It other words, resources should not be wasted on medians. Expensive and consumptive public landscapes should be installed only in parks or other places where they can be seen and appreciated.

Then there are those who must perform the maintenance. It is not safe for them. It will of course be necessary for crews to go out to maintain medians sometimes, and sometimes they might need to block a lane to do what needs to be done; but they should be out there as little possible. They should not be out there deadheading roses, pruning wisteria or planting petunias. They certainly should not be mowing lawns that no one can use! High maintenance features, like formal hedges, fountains, espaliers, trellises, arbors and beds of seasonal annuals, have no business out in medians! Such features require too much attention from those who must interact with traffic to attend to the maintenance.

Turf uses too much water anyway. It is useful in parks and athletic fields, but should be limited to situations where it can actually be useful for something. It is not useful in medians.

Trees are perhaps the best features of median landscapes, but even they are often not well thought out. They should be proportionate to the roadways that the get installed into, and get high enough for adequate clearance above truck traffic. Vertical clearance is not important if small trees can fit between the curbs of wide medians, but such wide medians should probably be outfitted with larger and taller trees. Trees in medians should exhibit complaisant roots that are less likely to damage curbs and pavement.

Landscape design takes serious work; and there is a lot to consider when designing landscapes for medians.

War Of The Worlds

P71003To a little kid, it really had the potential to be a scary movie. I did not understand all of it, but I got the important parts. Mars was red, so was probably near Oklahoma. Apparently, the people from Mars had big scary machines that destroyed anything and anyone that was in their way. I did not perceive much of a threat because my parents let me watch the movie. (We children could not watch really scary movies.)

Shortly after watching War of the Worlds, I went for a long walk with my older sister and some of her friends into the last remnant or orchard that was such a prominent part of our world. We went out onto a new section of roadway beyond where our street used to end, and turned east on a completely new street that was not there before. The fresh new pavement and neat curbs seemed so flat and desolate . . . and expansive compared to the orchard that it now divided. I wondered how the trees got out of the way of this thing. Obviously, some moved to the left, and others moved to the right.

We eventually arrived at a larger clearing off to the left of this new street. Within this clearing, there were huge concrete rectangles with short pieces of rebar sticking up from their perimeters. One of the concrete rectangles lacked rebar, but was outfitted with four tall poles that curved on top. They looked something like those scary weapons on top of those machines that came from Mars. My sister confirmed my suspicions by explaining that the big concrete rectangles where where the flying machines landed when they arrived. Now I was getting a bit scared.

A few days later, we started to hear strange noises coming from the orchard. I was not allowed to go that far into the orchard without my sister, and was too afraid to go investigate anyway. The noises were mechanical and metallic, mixed with the sound of what seemed to be a big diesel engine and wood breaking. I dismissed them as not ‘too’ terribly threatening at first; but by the next day, they were closer! Each day, they got closer, until I could actually see motion through the trees. Something yellow was moving around in there, and small puffs of black smoke sometimes squirted out above the trees. I was terrified! I told my mother that the mean people from Mars were out there destroying everything like in the War of the Worlds!

She explained that there were no mean people from Mars in the orchard, but that a new park was being built on the site. Well that did not help much. What is this ‘park’? My mother explained that it would be a place where kids could play and run around and climb things and play games . . . and you know. Well duh, that is what the orchard is for. She said that it would be better. I wondered what could possibly be better than the orchard. This is something that I need to see!

Well, for the next two days or so, as they tore out the last two rows or so of trees, it became apparent that they yellow machines from Mars that spurted out black smoke were bulldozers gouging the trees right out of the ground. No one even bothered to cut up the firewood to leave on the side of the road like was typically done. The trees were unceremoniously piled up and burned. I was no longer terrified. I was saddened and confused. I could not understand why anyone would want to do this to the most important part of our world.

The big concrete rectangles with rebar protrusions were not landing pads for the flaying machines from Mars. They were the foundations and floors of the Recreation Center for the new park. The concrete rectangles with the four curved poles that seemed to be an assembly site for the weaponry from Mars simply became two basketball courts. The curved poles were outfitted with backboards and hoops. The orchard, devoid of trees, was leveled in most areas and mounded in others, and mostly covered with a vast lawn. New trees were planted around the perimeter and within landscaped areas around the Recreation Center. I suppose as far as parks go, it was a nice one.

The only problem with it was that we did not know what to do with it. The new trees were too small to climb or hide behind or really to do anything with. The lawn was nice, but there was way too much of it. The Recreation Center was nice inside, but we wanted to be outside. Eventually, we learned how to enjoy our park, and it really was nice; although it will never be an adequate substitute for an orchard. Our suburban (or some might say ‘rural’) world was invaded and, unlike in the movie, conquered by a more urban culture.

I would not say that one culture is any better than the other. However, I will say that I believe that there was a certain advantage to knowing the orchard and some of the nearby undeveloped wildlands the way that we did. I really believe that it was more educational than the refined and synthetic landscape of the new park. The maintenance of the park certainly required some degree of horticulture. There are trees, lawn and all sorts of shrubbery and perennials. The orchard had only trees and mustard. We interacted with it differently somehow. This is something that I can not explain adequately. It can only be experienced.

No Respect

IMG_0417Horticultural industries are full of them; those who changed their respective careers half way through to do something ‘green’. We hear it all the time. “I used to be a ______ (Fill in the blank.), but I got so tired of ______ (Fill in the blank again.) and decided to get into landscaping.” Really?!? That is what you think of the landscape industry? Anyone who flunks out in your industry can ‘easily’ make it in landscaping?

While driving the delivery truck (because we could not hire a frustrated brain surgeon to do it for us), I had to deliver truckloads of rhododendrons to a ‘landscaper’ who did several jobs in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties. This ‘landscaper’ would walk through the nursery and tag whatever looked good at the time, and then assemble the landscape when the selected material arrived on site. Of course, he selected material that was in full bloom at the time, so the flowers were deteriorating by the time they arrived. His ‘landscapes’ were atrocious! The material was just tossed together so randomly, with plants that needed shade out in full sun, and full sun plants in the shade of big trees that were not pruned before the landscape was installed.

I can distinctly remember a job in the Oakland Hills that had two big Canary Island date palms that had not been groomed for many years. Decaying fronds were sagging low enough to mingle with the carcasses of agave blooms that were still sort of standing (or not) around the perimeter of the yard. Below these two palms (and I mean ‘below’, and within only a few feet of the trunks), the ‘landscaper’ had installed a few Colorado blue spruces, even more saucer magnolias, and about as many Japanese maples. These poor trees were literally pressed up against each other, and the rhododendrons that were getting delivered still needed to be stuffed in with them! Well, I could go on about how bad the ‘landscape’ was, but you probably get the point. Really, agaves and rhododendrons.

While unloading, the ‘landscaper’ explained to me, using the classic line mentioned above, “I used to be a chiropractor, but I got tired of all the stress and decided to get into landscaping.” He then continued to explain to me what made his career so stressful. After unloading the truck, I explained how frustrating it is to not be able to hire anyone to drive the truck or do the hard work at the farm. I hate working the irrigation through the middle of the night when summer gets hot. I am tired of the mud and rain in winter. Perhaps I should become a chiropractor!

Well, he did not like that much. He said that the two industries are completely different. Okay, I get that. He had to go to school for many years to earn his degree. Okay, I get that too. He had to work long hard hours for his career. Okay, I am still following here. It is a very stressful job that is not for everyone. Okay, have you worked out in the summer heat and dust, or winter cold and mud, until the sun went down, and sometimes into the night? Can you drive a tired old tractor or operate a chain saw? Do you even know how a shovel works?

The more he tried to explain to me that a chiropractor can become a horticultural professional, but a horticultural professional can not become a chiropractor, the more I realized how qualified I was for his former job. Yet, the horticultural industries are crowded with those who should be in other industries, or who simply do not take their work as seriously as it should be.