Sunday, December 4, 2011

Falling Fall Leaves....

Since joining Santa Monica's Treesavers in 2007, I have been lucky to have met and befriended a variety of wonderful, people, all caring deeply about trees in different ways.

After a recent meeting, Kathy- one of our valuable members- sent us all the following email. I was so enchanted by the way she was able to express her heartfelt delight in her experience- an experience I totally empathized with- that I wanted to share it with my readers:

Subject: Great Experience on the Way Home

Hi Everyone - Thank you again to Treesavers for getting me out of my house on this beautiful day! Not only was it beautiful driving to our meeting, but on the way home I went down 14th street from Pico to Ocean Park Blvd. The trees were amazing - it was like a moving art show! The sunlight was streaming through the orange, red, yellow fall leaves on the trees, but also the trees were dropping a leaf at a time. The leaves would move through the breeze slowly and then land on the street. It was a constant movement all the way down the street. Wish I had a video camera with me! If you get a chance in the next few days, drive down 14th between Pico and Ocean Park Blvd. when the sun is shining through the trees. It is beautiful!
That was a great meeting today. I came away with a good feeling.
Thanks everyone for your wonderful dedication to raising peoples awareness of the wonderfulness of trees. You sure raised mine!
- Kathy

A few days later we received this next email, completing the story after Kathy had shown the trees to Joe, another great Treesaver:

Hi Everyone - I have to tell you one more amazing thing about my trees on 14th St. I was driving up 14th St. with Joe so that I could see my trees again. I was swooning every time a tree let a leaf fall to the ground in front of us. Joe got a kick out of my excitement. Then a tree released a leaf that came right in Joe's car window and landed on his lap. It was beautiful and very unusual. It was almost white, and the leaf stood up perpendicular to the stem. We took it home and put it in front of Joe's book work area for him to enjoy. I felt like it was a gift from the tree to Joe.
- Kathy

The leaf I have shown here is not Kathy and Joe's leaf- just one of my photos of American Sweetgum leaves that Kathy's descriptions brought to my mind, although the leaf is not perpendicular to the stem- perhaps if Kathy reads this she will tell me if it is at all similar? And thank you Kathy for a story that brightened my day- so many people just don't SEE trees...

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Fall in LA

All my life having been subjected to the miraculous, dramatic shocks of the changing seasons in the UK, I will always feel rather cheated in Southern California, where the changes are more subtle. Because of this, I get extra excited when finding evidence of Autumn- or I should say "the Fall"- in LA where the majority of trees are evergreens.

As I have said before, as an artist my prime interest in trees is visual. Although my knowledge of the indigenous British trees is quite extensive, it is very limited regarding trees from other countries, including those in the US. In the last few days I have twice been made very aware of this, and embarrassed myself.

The first instance: Nearby, there is a wonderful avenue of one of the few local trees that are now glowing red and yellow and orange. I vaguely decided they were some variety of Maples- partly because of their colours and partly because of the palmate shape of the leaves:

Before writing this post I looked more closely at them, and soon realized that there were no signs of the Acer family winged seed pods. Instead there were these spiky, round fruits that I think of as "pom-poms", similar to those on the London Plane trees, and the leaves were slightly different from all the Maples.

A bit of research led me to the American Sweetgum tree- Liqidambar styraciflua.

My second instance of mistaken identity was in a street connected to that of the Sweetgums, down which I regularly walk when taking my Granddaughter Violet to a nearby playground. There I was constantly enjoying some magnificent tall golden trees, especially when lit by sunlight. Again, I was not that concerned about what they were, as it was their colour rather than their structure that caught my attention. I thought they were possibly some sort of Sycamores (though not the London Plane tree).

Having decided to include them in this post I became a bit more observant: checking out the leaves on the ground, I recognized the distinctive shape of a tree I had fallen in love with in the Botanical Gardens of Bath. This was the Tulip tree, Liriodendron tulipifera, also known as the Yellow Poplar tree, although it is a member of the Magnolia family. What puzzled me at first was that on the LA trees I had never noticed the wondrous flowers they have, and which I had delighted in photographing on the Bath tree- but then I remembered that last Spring I left the country in March, before they would have blossomed.

These are the LA leaves:

And this is one of the Bath ones:

And here is the evidence I zoomed in on of the seed clusters on the LA tree:

Finally, two photos of the Tulip tree flowers in Bath. I just can't wait to see the LA trees covered with these magical flowers next year!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Moreton Bay Fig Trees

Anyone who has followed this blog for some time will know of my obsession (one of my obsessions!) with the extraordinary Moreton Bay Fig Trees- especially those on La Mesa Drive. A member of the Banyan tree family, Ficus Macrophylla originates in the rain forests of Australia and sends down aerial roots which, on establishing themselves in the ground can help support the weight of the often massive limbs.

What is special about La Mesa Drive is that the trees form a wondrous avenue on a crescent; you walk along the road seeing one amazing tree after another...On returning to LA, one of the first things I did was to walk down this street, falling in love with the trees all over again and feeling ecstatic...

Starting with a general view:

And here are some of the aerial roots- I love the different textures between them and the main bodies of the trees, the difference between youth and old age :

This is one of my favourite trees, incredibly sculptural:

And here is a mad tree:

Another thing I love is the way the trunks and branches frame their backgrounds:

Here there is a contrast with a delicate little Fall, yellow-leaved Ginkgo tree:

And here one of the human-like sculptural shapes:

I find the individual patterning on the bark engrossing:

Especially when contrasted with the terracotta aerial roots

And as for the aerial roots....

These I just like for their bony quality:

Now for the figs, which I find quite delightful. Like all figs, they are pollinated by the Fig Wasp, the Fig Wasp only being able to reproduce in the fig flower.

There I will finish- but I'm sure I'll be back again among the Moreton Bay Figs very soon...

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Junipers: Santa Monica City Hall

I have long been an admirer of Santa Monica City Hall. This Landmarked building was built in 1938- 1939. It is described as Deco Moderne, a cross between Art Deco and Art Moderne and seems to me to be an archetypal town hall. An elegant geometric white structure, detailed with rich terracotta tiles, its facade is wonderfully contrasted with the dark green, exotically sculptured shapes of Juniper trees on either side of the entrance. Two more Junipers act as sentries when you enter the grounds. The whole effect is both grand and iconic.

Here it is: but alas not for long!

Now, apart from being so decorative, these evergreen Junipers are drought-tolerant and having been there since the late 40's could carry on helping the environment for another 100 years. So what does the City Council do? agree to get rid of them!

This is all to do with a wondrous new plan, a redesign of the landscaping to complement and connect to the planned new Palisades Garden Walk. I am extremely puzzled: are we not in a financial crisis, are there not countless unemployed and homeless people? Is this the time to redesign a beautiful, stately design? And with what? a nondescript, bit of urban design- regardless of being by James Corner, a designer of repute. The layout has no stature, no character:

Yes, they have included more trees- pollarded Western Sycamores- and a boring water feature replaces the Memorial Rose Garden. The Rose Garden may not have been stunning but at least it was made up of living flowers, rather than a series of familiar spurts of water.

However, the design has finally been approved by the City, after an appeal regarding stipulations by the Landmarks Commission, which were overthrown. I attended this meeting on October 25th, trying with other Treesavers to save the Junipers. The Landmarks Commission had wanted to retain the planters which housed the Junipers and also the original red brickwork of the steps, which continued as a pattern round the paving, connecting the building to the courtyard:

James Conner, however, wanted to remove the handrail on the ramp on the Southern approach. This entailed extending the ramp to a shallower gradient. To maintain the symmetry, he wanted to repeat this on the North side - this meant removing the Junipers. The brickwork he regarded as incompatible with the new materials- therefore it, too, must go.... A rather odd solution to the patterns of bricks on the courtyard was to score demarcation lines where they had been! One Councilmember, Kevin McKeown, made a stand for both the Junipers and the brickwork- but receiving no back-up joined in voting to accept the plans...

The four Junipers against the facade cannot be transplanted as they are too interwoven with the fabric of the building, but the plan is to relocate the other two.

What a tragedy- to lose six magnificent, valuable trees and a wonderful, iconic landscape...and what a waste of money...