Steven Michael Ralls Memorial Tree

Steven Michael Ralls Memorial Tree is mostly camouflaged by the surrounding forest.

Steven Michael Ralls got his Memorial Tree this morning, three years after he passed away on May 2, 2017. The circumstances that coincided for this event were impossible to ignore. Just like the other Memorial Tree, which was installed to replace an oak that was missing from a parking lot island, the Steven Michael Ralls Memorial Tree also has a practical application.

The small tree is a young Monterey Cypress, Cupressus macrocarpa, that needed to be removed from one landscape, and was waiting in the recovery nursery to be installed into another. Of course, a Monterey cypress in no easy tree to accommodate. It is too big and too dark to be compatible with most of the landscapes into which we add smaller and mostly deciduous trees.

However, it happens to be ideal for obscuring undesirable scenery, just like a row of five Arizona cypress, Cupressus arizonica, will be expected to do when installed along a busy roadway. Furthermore, it just happens to grow bigger faster than Arizona cypress, so is even better for the low end of the row where a bigger tree is preferred. The row really needs six trees anyway.

The location of the tree just happens to be ideal as well. With all Arizona cypress spaced evenly along the roadway, and the Steven Michael Ralls Memorial Tree strategically situated around the lower corner of the fence, it is located precisely where Steven Michael Ralls camped while homeless late in 2012. I could not have selected a more appropriate location if I had planned it.

The new tree will need to be watered by bucket occasionally through summer, but will need no intervention after the rain starts next autumn. It knows what it needs to do to get established and become an evergreen asset to the forest.

It was easier to see before it was planted.

Memorial Tree Update – March 22, 2020

Memorial Tree – Before

Updates get complicated as they link back to previous updates to previous updates to previous updates and so on. Linking and reblogging from another blog adds more complication. The last update for the Memorial Tree was reblogged from Felton League on August 10. It and previous updates should link back to preceding updates chronologically. At least it sounds simple.

Another brief update that will reblog here from Felton League at noon will describe more of the social significance of the Memorial Tree rather than horticultural concerns. It really is special.

This little Memorial Tree has certainly been through some difficult times. Despite reassurances that it would not happen again, and that the tree would be outfitted with an ‘approved’ trunk guard, the trunk base has been gouged by weed whackers on more occasions than I can remember. That is an unfortunate consequence of efficient but unaware community service workers.

Such major damage severely inhibited growth. As it begins its fifth year, the Memorial Tree is barely six feet tall. By now, it should be developing branch structure above minimal clearance. Fortunately, it was quite healthy last year. If it continues to grow similarly this year, it will grow above six feet, where it can later develop scaffold limbs. I intend to apply fertilizer regularly.

Stubble had been left on the trunk to enhance caliper growth. That which was developing into significant branches was removed to concentrate resources into vertical trunk growth. Stubble that remains is minimal, but should be substantial enough by winter to get mostly pruned away again. It will more likely be unnecessary, and pruned away completely from the main trunk.

Binding is unfortunately still necessary. The species innately develops irregular form. Binding straightens the otherwise curved trunk. Once the trunk lignifies in the desired position, binding and the associated stake will not be necessary. The larger lodgepole stake holds the binding stake vertical, but is more important for protection from those who bump into the still small tree.

Weeds were removed from around the base of the Memorial Tree, so that there would be no need for a dreaded weed whacker to get close to it. Former damage is compartmentalizing well.

Memorial Tree – After

Horridculture – Memorials

Where are the cedars?

Memorial trees should be remembered . . . right? I mean, they are planted to remind us of . . . something, or . . . someone. They are typically trees that will be around for a long time, because that is how important memories should be. Redwoods and oaks work nicely. Most get outfitted with plaques to remind everyone what the trees are there to remind us of.

The old original Sunnyvale City Hall was landscaped with several memorial trees. The most prominent were redwoods and cedars that were mostly planted as memorials for local veterans of various wars. They accumulated over several decades and a few wars. City Hall seemed like a good place for them, where they could live for a long time without bother.

However, City Hall was demolished in the late 1970s, and replaced with a big mall. The larger redwood and cedar memorial trees were salvaged as the mall was build around them. Most survived in a courtyard within the mall until the mall was partly demolished less than a quarter of a century later.

All the cedar memorial trees died in captivity within the courtyard. One redwood that was not a memorial was added to the group where one of the cedars had been.

Prior to the demolition of the courtyard, I needed to inspect the surviving redwood to prescribe procedures for safe removal of surface pavement, and subsequent protection of exposed roots. The surviving trees were in remarkably good health. I was not very worried about them. What bothered me though, was the complete disregard for their historical significance.

The plaques associated with these memorial trees were a mess. It was as if they all had been collected from their respective trees, mixed up, and replaced randomly. Plaques from the absent cedars were assigned to some of the surviving redwoods. The oldest and grandest memorial redwood was labeled as the redwood that was added last, after the mall was built, and therefore of no historical significance. The smallest and youngest redwood that really was added after the mall was built was labeled as one of the more historically significant memorial trees.

I believe that all the trees that were there during my inspection are still quite healthy within a small park space that was built around them. I have no idea if they are outfitted with plaques. If they are, I can not help but doubt the accuracy of those plaques.

Six on Saturday: Souvenirs From Oklahoma


Oklahoma is a place that I mention often in my writing. It was one of those very few places outside of California that I had always wanted to go to. After actually going there seven years ago, I want to go back to see what another season besides autumn is like. The flora there was so fascinating and unfamiliar. In the short time I was there, I collected seed of several species. Amazingly, most seed were viable a few years after collection.

1. Seed ~ was collected in these old pill bottles. These seed are not really from Oklahoma. They are mostly from canna, and were collected more recently. Collecting seed can be a bad habit.P91012

2. Yucca glauca ~ seed was collected at a truck stop in New Mexico on the way to Oklahoma, where it is also native. I found a shoot of Yucca arkansana in Oklahoma, but it did not survive.P91012+

3. Sapindus saponaria ~ seed was found hanging over a fence from a backyard into an alley in Norman. The ‘seedling’ on the left grew from a root that broke from the seedling on the right.P91012++

4. Diospyros virginiana ~ happened to be in season while we were there in November and December. The small persimmons are very different from Japanese sorts, and loaded with seeds.P91012+++

5. Cercis canadensis ~ is the state tree of Oklahoma. Supposedly, the variety that grows wild there is ‘Texensis’. Several native plants are named for places where they were first identified.P91012++++

6. Juniperus virginiana ~ was not grown from seed, but gathered as wild seedlings. It is unpopular among those more familiar with it, and for good reason. I, however, am unfamiliar with it.P91012+++++

This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate:

Memorial Memorial

P81014The little Memorial Tree in Felton Covered Bridge park that I so frequently write about is not the first to be planted there in its parking lot island. It is actually the fourth! The first was a California black oak like the other four in the other islands. They were all planted with the original landscape. It did not live there long before getting run over by a car. The island was empty for many years.

The second tree (above) was an Eastern red cedar that I brought from Oklahoma. It arrived here very early in the morning on the last day of 2012, in a bag with a few others that I pulled out of the ground the day before we left. They may be nothing special within their native range, but they are very exotic to me. At the time, I had no plans for the small trees. I just wanted to grow them.

I was downtown and up late the following night when I realized that it was nearing midnight between 2012 and 2013. I took out a trowel, dug a small hole in the island, and planted one of the Eastern red cedars right at the moment that one year changed to the next. I did not give it any more thought than that. Otherwise, I would have preferred a native species like the Park was originally landscaped with.

Sadly, that tree lasted only a few months before succumbing to what dogs do to young trees in parking lot islands. It was a bare root tree, so was not very resilient.

The third tree (below) was a native bigleaf maple that was planted the following winter between 2013 and 2014. It did not get much more planning than the Eastern red cedar. I found it growing on the side of the road where it would have been killed by vegetation management within the utility easement. Like the little Eastern red cedar, I pulled it up and planted it bare root. It was a better choice in some ways, but would have needed to be watered by bucket for the first few years. It survived through the first year and half way through 2015 before it too succumbed to what dogs do. I was being optimistic by thinking that a bare root tree would survive that.

The fourth tree is the little native valley oak Memorial Tree that is there now. I found it for just a few dollars at a local nursery. It was planted in the winter between 2015 and 2016, so this was its third summer. It was a canned tree, so started with more of a root system than the previous two trees that were planted bare root. Nonetheless, life out in that exposed parking lot island is not easy. The tree was severely damaged by weed whackers both in 2016 and in 2017, so barely grew, and is recovering slowly. It is quite well rooted now, so should have a much better season next summer. – This is a link to one of the more recent articles about the Memorial Tree. It includes a link to another previous article, which also links to other older articles. I really do not remember how many updates I have written about the Memorial Tree.P81014+

Horridculture – Vandals

P80926It wasn’t even two days. The article about the ‘Illegal Planting’ of the Memorial Tree in Felton Covered Bridge Park posted at noon on Saturday, and then on Sunday night or early Monday morning, the Memorial Tree was vandalized. Fortunately, it is nothing serious. A small bag of trash was impaled onto the binding stake that is there to keep the trunk straight, which pushed the top of the small tree aside. It needed to be bound to a new stake anyway.
(I do not often condone the use of binding stakes, but this particular tree contends with considerable abuse that causes structural distortion. The article from noon last Saturday is .)
Was it done by the haters who snivel about the Memorial Tree just being there? Probably not. The timing is suspicious. The technique is consistent with their style. However, they have been behaving for quite a while, and have not yet posted pictures of the vandalism to blame those they dislike, as they typically do. They are predictably vain in regard to gloating about such ‘community’ activism, particularly if they can also blame their victims for any incidental damages. ( )
As annoying as it is, this particular vandalism was most likely executed by someone who just did not put much thought into how bothersome it would be. It might have been done because of the lack of receptacles in which to deposit trash. Perhaps the bag of trash was impaled onto the stake so that it would be easier to retrieve and dispose of when the trash receptacles were returned to the site. The option of dropping it onto the ground might have been been perceived to be more like littering.
Perhaps I am being too optimistic and too generous with excuses.

Illegally Planting!

P80902K“ . . . others illegally planting whatever they wish . . . illegally.” Someone actually said that about the installation of our little Memorial Tree in Felton Covered Bridge Park. It was within the context of a review of the Park on Facebook, written by someone who has not stopped complaining about Felton since she moved here. It was forwarded to me quite some time ago by someone who documents and files such information that is relevant to hate crimes, and what is now known as ‘hate speech’, which is another completely different topic that we can not get involved with here.

Technically, it is accurate. The tree was planted without a permit, and does not comply with the standards of Santa Cruz County Parks. Compliance would have been quite an expensive imposition. It would have required an expensive #15 (15 gallon) tree, outfitted with lodgepole stakes and straps. The overworked gardener would have needed to take time from his busy schedule to install it. Because the irrigation system to the site is now defunct, the gardener would have needed to irrigate the tree until it got established. It was easier, much less expensive, more horticulturally correct, and socially responsible for us install the tree and maintain it on our own. Call 911 if you must.

There are of course reasons why we should not plant trees or other plant material in parks and public places. We do not want to make more work for gardeners, interfere with the landscape plan, or add plants that are inappropriate to the situation. This Memorial Tree happened to have been planted with the supervision of a horticulturist and arborist (me), on the exact spot where another oak that was installed with the original landscape had been knocked down by a car. Otherwise, in most places in Felton Covered Park, vegetation management, including the removal of large volumes of biomass and invasive exotic specie, should be the priority. (Unfortunately, the overgrowth of invasive exotics is mostly within a protected environmentally sensitive riparian zone.)

The little Memorial Tree has quite a history, even though it is still a baby. I do not want to post links to all the other updates about it, but I can post this link to another article that contains another link to others . . . Oh, you can figure it out if you like: .


P80902KThere is NO news regarding the tiny Memorial Tree in Felton Covered Bridge Park that I so frequently provide updates for. It did not do much this year. I probably already mentioned this when it was busy not doing much in spring. It is in a difficult situation, where too many dogs do what dogs do to tiny valley oaks that are busy not doing much more than trying to survive without regular watering, out in a harshly exposed island in a parking lot. Once it gets going, it should do fine. It is only slow now, but is not unhealthy. It is doing exactly what it should be doing this time of year. By late autumn, it will try to defoliate. Valley oaks are never in a rush for that.P80902K+
This angel’s trumpet is more interesting because it was seemingly deceased. As you can see, it is trying to recover . . . just in time for autumn. Unfortunately, there will not be sufficient time and warm weather for it to mature enough for the new stems to survive even a mild frost next winter. At least it will get a bit of time to recharge the roots so that it can regenerate a bit more vigorously next spring.
There is of course the possibility that it will not get frosted too severely in winter. It is somewhat sheltered by the canopies of nearby trees. We may even try to protect it under a box on the coldest nights.
Realistically though, the loss of such minor growth would not hurt it much. As it matures, it will likely lose much or most of its outer foliar growth annually each winter, and then replace it with new growth each spring. The priority for it now, or at least next spring, is to develop substantial stems that are above where ‘gardeners’ will cut it down with a weed whacker. Once it does that, it will have a relatively permanent framework of resilient trunks that it can get frosted back to.
The main problem since it was installed was not the frost, but unskilled labor with weed whackers. No matter how emphatically we explain to the ‘gardener’ that it is not a weed, his crew cuts it down a few times annually when no one is there to stop them.P80902K++
Naked ladies continue to bloom all over the region. These happen to be in the parking lot of Felton Covered Bridge Park. Several that were surplus in a neighbor’s garden were planted in the corners of the various islands. Unfortunately, because of their locations, most of their flower stalks get trampled and broken off. The picture below shows how exposed they are within an area of substantial traffic. The foliage that develops later does considerably better. It is too substantial to be trampled and ruined completely, and it gets a bit more substantial every year. However, the substantial foliage is not here yet to prevent the flower stalks from getting trampled.P80902K+++
By the way, if you think that I wrote this post because of the (former) lack of a horticulturally oriented topic for today, you are correct.

Memorial Day


Tomorrow is Memorial Day. Yesterday was the Felton Remembers Parade and Covered Bridge Festival, which is how Memorial Day is celebrated in Felton. It was a celebration worthy of Memorial Day, with plenty of music, crafts and expensive but unhealthful food to go with it. All that was lacking was that which is ‘memorial’. It seems that we have forgotten about that which we should never forget.

There were plenty of classic cars to provide memories of how stylish cars had been. There was a Boy Scout Troop to conduct the Flag Raising Ceremony at the main interchange of Highway 9 and Felton Empire Road to provide memories of when we still respected the American Flag and traditions associated with it. We were reminded of who our local politician are, and that we are still procuring funds for a new library, and that there are too many clubs for hateful women, and that the individual members of the motorcycle club get more done around here than everyone else combined (except for our local District Supervisor who provides the memories of what a public servant used to be.)

Felton Covered Bridge Park, the venue of the Covered Bridge Festival, is surrounded by memorial trees. All the redwood trees (which are of the cultivar ‘Soquel’, rather than wild trees) are memorial trees, sponsored by friends and families of the honored deceased. Some are outfitted with plaques. One was recently added. Another sweetgum tree is a memorial for Charlie, a very respected English bulldog. The small valley oak in an island in the parking lot is known simply as the Memorial Tree, to commemorate several who did not get their own tree. All the trees were there for the festivities, but only to provide shade and beauty.

Perhaps celebration is the best Memorial, or at least the best that such a large group can collectively participate in. Actually, the Covered Bridge Festival was exactly that, a ‘festival’ that merely coincided with the Felton Remembers Parade. It was not really a Memorial by design.

The big old Featherstone Tree at the center of town, and in the picture of the Felton Remembers Parade above, is not really a memorial tree, but does happen to be outfitted with a commemorative plaque for Mr. Featherstone who planted it, and has witnessed more parades on Highway 9 than anyone has.

The little Memorial Tree in Felton Covered Bridge Park, and in the picture below, was easier to ignore in the parking lot behind the mobile kitchens. I have written a few articles about it, beginning with this one –

and most recently this one –


May 2

P80502When I started writing this blog eight months ago, I reserved the right to occasionally write about topics that were irrelevant to horticulture and gardening. I designated the category of ‘elaborations’ for posts that were not from my weekly gardening column; but so far, I have tried to post articles within this category that were at least remotely relevant to horticulture, even if only to discuss a single tree, or merely a single ginkgo leaf that somehow appeared in Felton Covered Bridge Park.

Today is May 2. My post for today is only relevant to horticulture in that it explains the importance of the ‘Memorial Tree’ in Felton Covered Bridge Park.

Steven Michael Ralls passed away a year ago, on May 2, 2017

Jeffrey Dale Scofield passed away two years prior to that, on May 2, 2015

They were two of my most intimate friends. I wrote both obituaries. The obituaries are posted below, and are irrelevant to horticulture.

The small valley oak ‘Memorial Tree’ that was planted in Felton Covered Bridge Park was originally designated as the ‘Scofield Tree’. However, a few more prominent friends of our Community passed away afterward; and the Park could not accommodate more memorial trees. Finally, when we could not find an appropriate situation for a memorial tree for Steven, the ‘Scofield Tree’ was designated simply as the ‘Memorial Tree’. These are a few brief articles about it.

These are two articles about some of our adventures with Steven, and a third about the ginkgo leaf that appeared in Felton Covered Bridge Park on Steven’s birthday last December 13:

Jeffrey Dale Scofield of Felton passed away peacefully from complications associated with cancer on May 2, 2015, in Santa Cruz, only a short distance from where he was born on June 9, 1959. Except for when he traveled for work in other regions, he lived his entire life in the San Lorenzo Valley.

After harvesting timber earlier in his career, Jeffrey Scofield became well known professionally for setting “miles of tiles” and stone. More recently, he harvested firewood. He was a champion of both baseball and arm wrestling.

Mr. Scofield is survived by his sister Valerie of Las Vegas, nephew Rodney of Bethel Island, niece Christa, nephew Charles of Reno, and many lifelong friends of the San Lorenzo Valley. Ashes will be scattered privately.

P80502++Steven Michael Ralls of Felton succumbed to complications associated with a variety of chronic medical conditions, and passed away in Aptos on May 2, 2017, at the age of 46. Steven was born on December 13, 1970 in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, and then spent most of his childhood in Norman, Oklahoma. He came with his family to Berkeley, California in 1987, and then lived in Hayward, before settling in Felton in 1999. His recent relocation to Aptos was considered to be only temporary, as he would have preferred to return home to Felton.
Prior to the onset of debilitating medical conditions, Steven had a distinguished career in specialized woodworking and finish carpentry. His work can be found in some of the more luxuriously outfitted homes and offices of the San Francisco and Monterey Bay Areas. Steven was also remarkably proficient with the restoration of old homes, cabinetry and furniture.
Later in life, Steven devoted more attention to art, particularly drawing and guitar music. His talent with the guitar was exceeded only by his exquisite voice that accompanied it.
Steven Ralls is survived by his son Michael Forrest Ralls of Oakland, California, wife Gayle Schermerhorn of Murphys, California, brother Jonathan Ralls of Hayward, California, sister Tammy Roberts of Wichita, Kansas, sister Brandi Ralls Sullivan of Lakewood, Washington, brother Brent Patty of Saginaw, Texas, mother Virginia Bates of Newalla, Oklahoma, father Michael Ralls of Olathe, Kansas, and many old friends of the San Lorenzo Valley.