60309It does not grow fast, but by the time it gets old, mayten, Maytenus boaria, might be tall enough to reach upstairs eaves, and nearly as broad. The main trunk and limbs are nicely outfitted with uniformly checked grayish bark. Smaller stems are so very limber that it is a wonder that trees are able to gain any height at all. These stems arch gracefully, with their wiry tips hanging vertically.

Almost all modern maytens are of the cultivar ‘Green Showers’, which has slightly larger leaves. Yet, the evergreen leaves are so small that it is not easy to discern much difference from the slightly yellower leaves of older trees. Ironically, older trees seem to be more resilient. Newer trees seem to be more sensitive to rot if watered too frequently, particularly if soil does not drain adequately.

Pruning and grooming is not as simple as it might seem to be from the outside. If the very pendulous stems around the edges get cut like bangs, bunched stems accumulate and lose their softly pendulous texture. They need to be thinned too, so that they can hang more softly. Dead stems should be groomed from within. Main stems are not likely to regenerate if cut back too severely.



p90120p90120+It seems that I have been negligent about writing about my colleague Brent Green and some of our crazy adventures in horticulture. I said I would do so when I started writing my articles here way back two Septembers ago. It is easy to get distracted from such topics, particularly since we do such different types of work. Brent is a renowned landscape designer and proprietor of GreenArt Landscape Design in Southern California. I am just a horticulturist and arborist who really should get back to growing horticultural commodities in Northern California. For all of our similarities, there just might be as many differences.

After posting that old video of the Birthday Trees yesterday, I thought that I should also write more about what Brent does for the urban Forest of Los Angeles, which is probably more interesting than our crazy adventures. I really want to find the old news article about how he busted tree rustlers who were stealing mature Canary Island palms from the embankments of the Santa Monica Freeway, which is pictured above. It is still a sore subject because we know that it continues, and that the trees that were stolen were not returned as promised.

I could write a separate blog about the work that GreenArt does if I were more involved with it. I just do not enjoy design like Brent does. Actually, I am no good at it. I just work with the horticultural aspects of it, and growing material for it. In the future, I will probably be more involved with projects that are not directly affiliated with GreenArt, such as initiatives to maintain and protect trees in public spaces of Los Angeles.

For now I have only this brief and outdated video of the landscaping of Brent’s home, .

Birthday Trees


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.


Long leafed Yellowwood

60113+Of the various specie of podocarpus, and as the name implies, the long leafed yellowwood, Podocarpus henkelii, has the longest leaves. They can get about six inches long, and hang elegantly from upwardly curving branches. This glossy evergreen foliage can be quite dense. It is dark green in full sun, and can be a slightly bluish in partial shade, particularly as new growth develops.

Mature trees have the potentially to get a bit taller than second story eaves, and nearly as broad, but are typically kept shorter. Most grow as big fluffy shrubbery or as informal hedges. Long leafed yellowwood can be pruned (but not shorn) into a handsome formal hedge, or even espaliered against a fence. It prefers somewhat regular watering and well drained soil. It might be unhappy in dense soil. Fertilizer can improve color and density if foliage gets distressed.

Horridculture – Clearance

P90102Many arborists mark certain lengths on their pole saws and pole pruners. When stood upright, these marks designate the standard heights for minimal clearance pruning. Not so many need to mark the height of minimal clearance for walkways, since they will prune away anything that is within reasonable reach with hand tools from the ground. The minimal clearance above parking spaces is not so easy to guess at, so is more likely to be marked on poles. So is the minimal clearance over roadways, where the lowest limbs must be high enough to be out of the way of campers and freight trucks.
Clearance to the sides is determined by the location of the curb, but even that might need to be modified at sharp turns, or where the roadway slopes significantly away from the center. Clearance must similarly be a bit higher over dips in a roadway, where the height of long freight trailers would be affected by the elevation of the wheels in front and back (outside of the dips). Clearance around street lighting, roofs, utilities and such is determined by the object that requires clearance, so no marks must be made on the poles for such work. (Clearance pruning of high voltage cables is only performed by those who are qualified to do so.)
Clearance pruning is serious business for arborists. They do not want their trees to hurt anyone, or to damage vehicles. Nor do they want their trees to be damaged by vehicles. Obtrusive limbs can be torn away by freight trucks. Even if not torn away, limbs that are regularly battered by freighter trucks are rather unsightly.
As someone who used to drive the delivery truck, I can tell you that clearance pruning is also important for some of us who use the roadways.
These three young Italian stone pines are healthy specimens that are probably well structured inside all of the outer foliage. It is hard to say, since I can not see inside through all the disfigured lower foliage that has been continually battered by truck traffic. They probably only need to be pruned for clearance above and away from the traffic. If pruned to establish a minimal ceiling just two feet or so above the obvious damage, and to remove all the lower growth to the side, they would be excellent street trees for many years. They will eventually need to be pruned again, as maturing branches sag from their own weight, but that is to be expected. The main trunks and bulky limbs within would probably be quite sculptural if they were to be exposed by pruning that is necessary anyway. It really would not take much.

Evergreen Pear

61005If it were not so seriously susceptible to fireblight, the evergreen pear, Pyrus kawakamii, would be a practical evergreen shade tree for small garden spaces. Mature trees do not often get much taller or wider than twenty five feet. Aggressively pruned trees that do not bloom much are less susceptible to fireblight. Regularly groomed trees can live with fireblight for many years or decades.

The nicely furrowed bark and irregular branch structure give evergreen pear trees the distinction of larger trees. Lower limbs will probably sag low enough to need pruning for clearance. Clusters of small white flowers, like those of other pears, bloom in spring, but are partly obscured by the evergreen foliage. Distressed trees bloom more profusely and are not so densely foliated in bloom.

Six on Saturday: Beat Box


It sounds more compelling that way, like the old song by Art of Noise in 1984. It was . . . unique for the time. I suppose it still it. Brent introduced me to that Beat Box when we lived in the dorms at Cal Poly in 1986. Otherwise, to me, the name would have suggested a shallow wooden box for storing root vegetables in a cellar, or a crisper drawer of a refrigerator – a box for beets.

Well, I am just beeting around the bush to avoid sharing the unsightly pictures of my beat-up and neglected planter box downtown, which, incidentally, features neither beets, nor bushes.

The last update was only six weeks ago. There has not been much improvement. I manage to remove the litter that accumulates. The condition of most of the plants is unfortunately natural for this time of year. It will not last long. For now, it is what I have to share.

The main problem now is that the common houseleeks, which are the most prominent perennials, naturally looks very tired. I would have no problem with it in my own garden. I know that they look great for most of the year. They look like they do now only in late summer. They recover immediately as soon as the rain starts in autumn. I do not know what is so great about rain, or what rain does that the irrigation does not do. I think that it coincides with cool humidity. Warm aridity is probably what causes the houseleeks to fold up and shed much of their foliage the way they do.

1. Common houseleek was grown from two tiny cuttings that I acquired from the garden of a friend’s deceased mother as we were emptying her home in Monterey. They arrived with a bronze common houseleek, another unidentified houseleek, an unidentified aloe, and, of all things, a bearded iris. They grew like weeds, and are now the most prominent features in the planter box. They would not have been my first choice, but once they started to grow, everyone liked them. I sometimes consider cutting them back so that they regenerate as lower foliar plants; but most people like their height and sculptural stems. I will instead groom out some of the superfluous grown to display their stems better. Once the rain starts, and they regenerate new foliage, they will look exquisite! For now, they look like . . . this.P80929

2. Bronze common houseleek was planted between the two common houseleeks, and at the same time, but never gets going well. As soon as it tries to grow, someone takes the top off of it. It would be an excellent contrast if it gets the chance. It really looks bad right now, but like the others, it will fluff out with the rain. The third smaller houseleek is right below it.P80929+

3. One never knows what might be found in a roadside planter box or landscape. Besides the concrete slurry (that was dumped by a tile-setter working in the adjacent building) and big puddles of vomit (such as those commonly found outside of downtown bars), I have found discarded bicycle parts (that were replaced by the adjacent bicycle store), baggies of dog poop, loaded diapers, small bags of trash, and a variety of dishes, glasses and flatware from neighboring restaurants. This disfigured fender is certainly not the strangest item to appear in my planter box, but is one of the largest.P80929++

4. Two nice urns outside of the adjacent bicycle shop always look so much better than my planter box. They are filled with nice potting soil, and get watered more generously. The big houseleek in the closer of the two urns was removed from my planter box when it got too crowded. I would have planted a matching pair, but the farther of the two urns had been temporarily removed to make room for a sign. Now that it has returned, it is outfitted with a big aloe from the planter box. The aloe was cut back when the tile on the corner of the planter box where the aloe is located was repaired. I was not there when it happened, but I am very pleased that someone in the bicycle store salvaged the severed bits of aloe. I would have been annoyed if they had been wasted. They are quite large now. It would be excellent if they bloom soon. Most aloes bloom in summer, but this species has tried to bloom at really odd times . . . except in summer! The floral stalks in the planter box have always gotten broken off before they bloom, so I do not even know what the flowers look like. If they never get the chance to bloom, the foliage still looks great.P80929+++

5. The adjacent tree well really did not look this bad after I pulled up some of the debris that collected in it a month or so ago. It now looks as nasty as it did during my previous update. I know the bit of housleek looks really nasty, but it stays because I expect it to recover once the rain resumes. Nasturtiums grow here too. I will sow seed for ‘Jewels Mix’ nasturtiums in the planter box only because nasturtiums do not regenerate there as reliably.P80929++++

6. This second tree well that is just west of that in the #5 picture above had a nice magnolia tree in it a month ago. Only this pile of chipped stump remains. The sidewalk, curb and road pavement will be replaced soon. Street trees will be added later. The magnolias were so pretty, but were too impractical and messy. I am impressed that they did not do more damage than they did during the half century that they were there.P80929+++++

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

Horridculture – Think Outside The Box

P80912Straight out of college, I worked briefly for a wholesale nursery that grew landscape stock, which included boxed trees. We also recycled a few trees, particularly from the abandoned homes in the neighborhood around the nursery. (The neighborhood, including the nursery, were in the easement of the Norman Mineta Freeway, which in the process of being constructed at the time.) I had believed that the boxed and recycled trees were for ‘instant’ landscapes, the sort that were for clients who did not want to wait for things to grow. It made sense, particularly in our region where so few stay in the same home long enough for trees to mature.

Many trees were good candidates for growing in boxes. Some were naturally small trees. Others had fibrous root systems that did not mind the confinement. Japanese maple, crape myrtle, purple leaf plum, flowering cherry, flowering crabapple, magnolia and various specie of podocarpus all grew well for us, and probably adapted well to their new landscape homes.

Other trees were not such good candidates. We also grew a few specie of oak, pine and eucalyptus that did not want their roots to be confined to boxes. They wanted to disperse their roots as soon as they could. They had no problem doing so while young. However, mature boxed trees needed so many years to recover from their confinement that by the time they recovered, if they ever recovered at all, small trees that were planted at the same time had grown larger. Yet, people paid tens of thousands of dollars for some of the larger boxed trees.

Some clients did not care if the trees died. Some just wanted them to live long enough for their home to sell. Those who purchased the homes often did not care either. Many purchasers just demolished such homes and landscapes to build new monster homes on the sites. Many landscapers only needed such trees to live long enough for their client’s cheque to clear.

For example, the same ‘landscape company’ that was involved with the ‘Shady’ incident ( ) installed several boxed Italian stone pines nearby, on General Stillwell Drive, also in Marina. The client presented us with a picture of a very mature Italian Stone pine, and instructed us to install the exact same ‘native’ pines. I tried to explain that ‘Italian’ meant that they were not native. I tried to explain that they would take at least half a century to look like the old tree in the picture. I tried to explain that after only twenty years, the trunks of the trees could be wider than the two foot wide parkstrips that they were to be installed into. The client was an idiot; a demeaning and spoiled rotten idiot. We should have walked off the job (after giving him a good spanking and sending him to his room) when he insisted that we “do it”.

We did not walk off the job of course. There was too much money involved. However, I was conveniently not invited to subsequent meeting, and did not return to the site until after the trees had been installed and were developing some very serious problems.

The biggest trees that were available in 36” boxes were procured. No grower wanted to be liable for larger pines. Because of the innately shrubby structure of the species, the trees were not very tall at all, but were quite plump. They were a special cultivar of Italian stone pine that is native to the central coast of California. (?!)

You can imagine what needed to be done to get each 36” wide root system into a 24” wide parkstrip. Yes, the ‘landscapers’ sliced about half a foot off of opposite sides of the already distressed and unhappily confined root systems of each tree. Because the fluffy canopies obstructed the sidewalks and extended out over the curbs, each tree was severely disfigured by clearance pruning that removed about a third of the branch structure and foliage. In the end, only about two thirds of each of the trees that cost $500 each remained, and the client was furious that they were not as big as that half century old tree in the picture that he found online.

Each tree was outfitted with a pair of root barriers, one for the curb and one for the sidewalk, not to prevent the roots from elevating the pavement, but because the ‘landscaper company’ could earn a bit more money by adding them to the bill. If the trees were to survive, their big trunks would push the curb and sidewalk laterally before the roots elevated them vertically.

That was in about 2008, about ten years ago. Miraculously, several of the trees survived! I found their pictures online. (These two pictures look the same, but are actually in two different locations.) The trees have not yet damaged the curbs or sidewalks, but only because they are not much bigger than they were ten years ago.P80912+

Six on Saturday: Out With The Old


The planter box downtown has been neglected for too long. ( ) I really must make some time to clean out the debris and a little bit of trash. There is nothing as interesting as when the concrete slurry was dumped into it by whomever was installing the tile in the bathroom of the adjacent building, but there are some odds and ends. One of the six trailing rosemary plants that was trailing so nicely over the southern edge is missing . . . as in someone cut it back to a stump. Someone dumped out an old dead houseplant right into the middle of the planter box, leaving an upside down pot shaped wad of potting soil, as if no one would mind. Right next to that, someone left a potted kangaroo paw, as if I might want to plant it into the planter box. It is all dried up and mostly dead . . . and I really do not like kangaroo paw enough to want to grow it there. Well, perhaps it is better to show you the drama than to write too much about it.

1. This is the potted kangaroo paw that someone left in the planter box. Anyone who does not notice how sloppy all the dried foliar debris on the ground around it is will be sure to notice how unsightly this dried kangaroo paw is. The pile of discarded potting soil was already bashed up and spread out before this picture was taken. I will probably plant the kangaroo paw somewhere else, just in case it survives. I do not want it here. The pot is nice.P80818

2. It has a name; Anigozanthos ‘Kanga Yellow’. Doesn’t anyone use species names anymore?P80818+

3. Right next to my planter box is a tree well with a London plane that has not grown more than a few inches in the past few years. When my nasturtiums really get to blooming and seeding, I sweep some of the seed into the tree well, where they bloom just as prolifically as they do in the planter box, but a bit later. I make it look like an accident. There is also a busted up houseleek in there. It grew from a piece of mine, and will regenerate when the rain resumes in autumn. It sort of looks like an accident too.P80818++

4. Just to the west of the slow London plane is one of a few old Southern magnolias that will be removed. They are disfigured and somewhat unhealthy, so are not worth salvaging as the pavement of the surrounding roadway, sidewalk and curb get replaced. Even if we wanted to salvage them, they would not likely survive the process. It is sad to see them go, but they were good street trees for a very long time, and certainly lasted longer than they should have been expected to. Southern magnolias commonly displace pavement. I really would not mind if the ailing London plane were to be removed as well, just because it it too pathetic to work around, but the tree huggers are intent on preserving it. When the magnolias get replaced with new redbuds or tupelos, the London plane will look odd, and will eventually get too big and break the new pavement. Oh well. My planter box and this tree are actually on Nicholson Avenue, not on Tait Avenue or Bayview Avenue.P80818+++

5. ‘X’ marks the magnolias who are condemned to death. I know they need to go, but it is saddening anyway. They were fun neighbors.P80818++++

6. Since there were no colorful flowers within my planter box, it was necessary to get this picture elsewhere. Brent might say this looks like the Academy Awards, with a bee on the red carpet rose. Well, I can not expect you to know how Brent thinks. You can omit ‘rose’, and think of ‘bee’ as ‘B’, and think of ‘B’ as a euphemism.P80818+++++

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


70628Compared to crape myrtle, sycamore (London plane) and many other more popular trees, the beech, Fagus sylvatica, is much less problematic, and really deserves more respect. Although it can eventually get almost as big as sycamore, it has remarkably complaisant roots. It is neatly deciduous, defoliating only in autumn, without noticeable floral mess. Disease and pests are rare.

Beech is probably unpopular with landscapers because new trees are a bit more demanding than other tree specie are. (Landscapers prefer easier trees.) Until they disperse their roots, they are more likely to desiccate if they do not get watered regularly enough, and more likely to rot if watered too much. They grow somewhat slowly, so need to be pruned more carefully for a high canopy.

Those of us who tend our own gardens do not mind the extra effort for such a distinctive tree. The handsome foliage can be rich green, coppery bronze, darkly purplish or variegated with white or pink that fades to white. A cultivar with sunny yellow new foliage fades to green by summer. Most beeches have spreading branch structure, but some are strictly vertical or sculpturally pendulous.