X Marks The Spot

P91102KHorticulture is not all about growing things. If everyone was out planting trees, the World would eventually be overwhelmed with forest. It is sometimes necessary to cut trees down. There are several at work that we have been wanting to cut down for quite a while. Some are structurally deficient enough to eventually become hazardous, which is unacceptable in public spaces.

Even here among some of the oldest trees in the World, nothing last forever. Coast live oak, like that in the picture above, has potential to survive for centuries, but eventually succumbs to decay and disease. If fact, this particular specimen is doing it right now. If not cut down soon, it will eventually fall onto an adjacent building and a parking lot below. Its days are numbered.

Literally, it will be cut down on Monday morning, along with a few other coast live oaks and bay laurels in the neighborhood. The orange ‘X’ on the trunk is so faded from the delay of getting this done, that is it barely discernible. (Actually, the can of spray paint was empty.) The trunk and even the main limbs are so rotten that there will not be much firewood left to cut and split.

Cutting this tree down may seem to be unnatural, but so was pruning it for decades so that it would not fall down. It is impossible to say what situation this tree would be in now without past or present intervention. I am more concerned with how it and other trees interact with their surroundings, and the safety of everyone involved. We can not always let nature do as it pleases.

Forest fires are very natural components to our local ecosystems, but because so many of us live here, significant effort and resources are expended on containment!


Fire Is Part Of Nature

P81106Plants have very different priorities from those who enjoy growing them. The colors and fragrances of flowers that we find so appealing are really designed to guide pollinators. The appealingly aromatic foliage of scented geranium and other herbs is actually designed to repel hungry insects and animals. Many tasty fruits are designed for seed dispersion by animals who enjoy them too.

Pollination, dispersion of seed and self defense are all part of what plants do in nature. They must also know how to survive in their respective natural environments. Many plants survive cold arctic weather. Others survive arid deserts. Many native plants want a bit of water through winter, but know how to survive through long dry summers. Many or most natives know how to survive wildfires.

As unpleasant as it seems to us, wildfires are very natural here. Native plants lack the mobility to get out of the way, so use other techniques to survive. A few, such as the two specie of redwood, survive by not being very flammable. More know how to resprout from their roots after they burn. Even more simply regrow from new seedlings. Then there those that use fire to their advantage.

Monterey pine trees tend to accumulate combustible debris. They also produce more seed-containing cones as they age and deteriorate. When they burn, all the debris burns so hotly that most of the other competing vegetation gets incinerated. However, the dense cones of Monterey pine protect the seed within, only to open to disperse the seed afterward. It is a rather ingenious plan!

Ungroomed desert fan palms burn at least as hotly, but survive because the hefty trunks protect the buds within. Each technique works for the specie that use it, but is not safe for home gardens! This is why combustible vegetation needs to be managed around the home. The rules are different in urban areas than they are where wildfires are a concern, but they are important everywhere. Even the most combustible of native plants, as well as exotics, can be reasonably safe with proper pruning and maintenance.


P90216KToday’s episode is brought to you by the letter ‘T’.
This is not Sesame Street.
Nor is this freshly painted concrete ‘T’ a monogram that designates the garden as mine. Even I am not ‘that’ vain.
It is part of a sign at the train depot. There happen to be enough of the right letters for my last name. I suppose that with a pry bar and a shovel, I could be ‘that’ vain.
There is no ‘Y’, so my first name would not work, particularly in conjunction with my last name, which would take the only ‘T’ and ‘O’ available. Am I really vain enough to be putting this much thought into this? Oh my!
For right now, I should only be concerned with keeping the vegetation clear of the sign. The amaryllis foliage above barely flops into it. The overgrown photinia hedge behind the amaryllis was just removed. The arborvitaes that will be installed to replace the photinia hedge will not likely get wide enough to ever reach the sign. They will be set several feet back. We are still trying to decide what to install between the arborvitaes, which will be far enough from each other so that they will not become a continuous hedge like the photinia were.
You would not believe how many bay trees and valley oak trees were trying to grow amongst the photinia! They ranged in size from fresh seedlings all the way up to a nearly six inch wide coppiced stump of a valley tree that was cut down a few years ago. There are still a few small oaks that must be removed nearby. We want to remove them while we are working on the site, and before they get big enough to displace the concrete letters with their roots.


P81104K.JPGWhat a surprise. There was none when I went in to use the computer as the sun came up into a clear blue sky this morning. When I came outside just a few hours later, it was everywhere. It was so thick and so aromatic that it was obviously very close, but it did not smell like it was in the ponderosa pines around Scott’s Valley where I happened to be at the time. Once I got on the road back to Felton, I could see that besides the monochromatic ambient smoke that obscured the surrounding hills, a prominent and much thicker brown cloud of smoke hovered low over the San Lorenzo Valley. The smoke was even thicker in Felton, and obscures the range to the west where Bonny Doon is. As I write this in Felton Covered Bridge Park, ash is falling onto the computer screen.
The fire has apparently been burning since last night in the Pogonip, closer to Santa Cruz, and is now contained. Paradise Park has been evacuated. Highway 9 is closed between here and there. Sirens announce the arrivals and departures of firetrucks as they migrate into town from the south on Highway 9, and back south toward Santa Cruz on Graham Hill Road and Mount Hermon Road, as if even they can not get through on Highway 9. Heavy helicopters can be heard but not seen off to the south. A cumbersome airplane is circling the area.
There is not much of a breeze. It seems as if it has not gotten as warm as predicted for today. The smoke and sirens sets the mood. It is not good, even though we know that the fire is contained.
Fire is part of life here. Clear cut harvesting of redwood more than a century ago allowed more combustible specie to proliferate over the area and among the redwoods as they recover and regenerate. The forest is now more combustible than it has ever been, but can not be allowed to burn with so many of us living here. Without burning, it becomes more combustible.

Six on Saturday: Vegetation Management


It sounds so unglamorous; probably because it is. We had been working on this project for three weeks, and just finished on Thursday. Most of the work was cutting back thickets of native (but installed) redtwig dogwood. It was neither coppicing nor pollarding, but something in between. They could not be coppiced completely because they are in trafficked areas where they might be tripping hazards until they regenerate. They were not quite pollarded because there were no real trunks remaining, just short stubs of canes. We also needed to removed brambles that were mixed with the redtwig dogwood, as well as a few exotic (non-native) plants that had grown in amongst the whole nasty mess. There were a few nice pyracanthas and privets that needed to be removed. In a better situation, they would have been nice specimens. This was not the right situation for any of them. Besides, privets seed profusely and are quite invasive.

1. Now you see it. This is a privet that needed to be removed.P80324
2. Now you don’t. This is the same privet noticeably absent.P80324+
3. Evidence. There really was a privet here.P80324++
4. And there it goes!P80324+++
5. Except for the foliage that just recently developed, this thicket of redtwig dogwood that will not be pruned is what the rest of it looked like.P80324++++
6. This is what it looks like now.P80324+++++
This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate:


Okie Mowers

P80120They are excellent at weeding and vegetation management too, particularly where brambles are too thick to get through. They also convert unwanted vegetation into useful fertilizer. Goats are remarkably versatile and useful machines around the garden.

The goat in this picture is no ordinary goat. She is a pygmy fainting goat. Her kind were bred to faint when startled, in order to keep a predator occupied instead of eating other more desirable livestock in their herd. What a strange job description! When we went to Oklahoma a few years ago, we stayed on a farm with quite a herd of these small and pleasantly mannered goats.

It was winter while we were there, so there was not much to do in regard to vegetation management or gardening. There were a few blackjack oaks near the homes that I pruned up for clearance and just to neaten them up a bit. The goats came over to watch what I was doing, and seemed to know to stay back when branches fell. Nonetheless, the commotion of some of the larger branches falling was enough to cause some of the closer goats to faint and fall to the ground. They would get back up within a few seconds and proceed to eat the twigs from the branches. By the time I was finished pruning, only the larger stems remained to be dragged off and staged next to a burn pile of other debris that had accumulated earlier in the year.

Late one evening, my friend Steven decided to burn the burn pile. ( https://tonytomeo.wordpress.com/2017/11/19/oklahoma/ and https://tonytomeo.wordpress.com/2017/12/13/birthday/ ) I do not know why Steven thought that it would be a good idea to burn it in the dark. The neighbors off in the distance were probably wondering the same thing. Once it was started, there was no point in extinguishing it for a more convenient time. I went out to help him finish the job.

The initial pile flared up pretty well, and then took some time to die down. All the goats who happened to be in the main pasture at the time came over and gathered around to watch. They all seemed to be so interested, and formed a very neat and uniform circle around the fire. Their happy faces glowed like those of a really big troop of Boy Scouts.

It took a while, but the fire eventually died down enough to start throwing on the staged limbs of the blackjack oaks. The goats did not seem to mind as Steven shooed a few of them aside to get a nice hefty limb. From a few feet back, Steven innocently dropped the limb onto the fire.

The limb went down.

The flurry of sparks went up.

The entire herd of goats went down.

Neither Steven nor I saw much of what happened after that. As fast as the goats got back up, we both went down, laughing too hard to stand. The neighbors must have thought we were crazy. The goats were more certain of it. By the time we recovered and got back up, all the goats were gone . . . off into the distance and the darkness of that cool winter night in Oklahoma.


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

Anti-Community Garden

P71217Isn’t this a delightful meadow? It is located right across from the historic Felton Covered Bridge (https://tonytomeo.wordpress.com/2017/12/02/felton-covered-bridge/). The trail to the left goes up the embankment into the parking lot of the old County Bank Building, right downtown. On a warm day, it is a nice cool short cut to the Felton Covered Bridge Park, just over the San Lorenzo River.

You should have seen it a few years ago. It was not such a nicely inviting meadow, but was instead an excellent collection of small garden plots within a fenced Community Garden that deer could not get into. There were about nine small olive trees behind the fenced area. The stumps in the foreground and to the left were two small curly willows. People living in apartments or where the shade of the surrounding mountains and redwood forests prevented gardening could rent parcels here to grow vegetables, flowers or herbs. It really was nice.

Then it was destroyed.

Everyone who rented plots there was evicted. Surrounding oaks, box elders, willows and other vegetation were eradicated. Fortunately, the olive trees were relocated. The whole area was graded by bulldozer; and the Community Garden was gone. Now, the vacant meadow grows only a thicket of thistles that needs to get mown down every summer.

P71217++Apparently, someone thought that there might possibly be the remote chance of the potential for homeless people to maybe engage in activities that could perhaps be determined to be bad, right behind the Community Garden. If you look closely, you might be able to see them back there. Maybe not. (More accurate information can be found at the Facebook page of Felton League at https://www.facebook.com/Felton-League-520645548069493/ .)

Well, after making this observation, the expert on the sociology of the homeless, and self-proclaimed representative of the thousands of others in Felton, convinced the owners of the property to fix the problem. You see, only by singling out and targeting a particular segment of our Community can we put Unity back into CommUnity. Demolishing a Community Garden certainly helps too. It took a lot of hassling, and a lot of lies, but it was finally done. This is what we have to show for it, as proof that killing a Community Garden helps with homelessness.P71217+.JPG