Monday, December 13, 2004

Our New Tree

I think that I shall never see
A blog as int'resting as a tree....

When you enter Monterey on Del Monte Boulevard there is a sign saying "Tree City USA" an honor given only to those cities which have nurtured and respected their urban forestry. There should be a corresponding sign going the opposite direction into Seaside: "Welcome to treeless city USA."

Look across the bay from Cannery Row and you can pretty much identify the Seaside city limits by the timberline. Monterey has trees, Fort Ord has trees. Seaside has concrete. That's not to say that Seaside doesn't have any trees, but it is safe to say that Seaside doesn't have many trees. Here and there are a few grand oak and cypress, but most of the city's arboreal collection consists of pathetic, manicured shrubs on sticks, barely able to overshadow a Volkswagen Beetle.

So the Toys been doing our part to plant more trees in Seaside.

We planted one Saturday. It is the sixth tree we've planted since we bought our house six years ago, and it will probably be the last. We've run out of room.

When we arrived as the new owners of this small plot of land, we had one holly tree, about 20-25 feet tall, one lemon tree and one apple tree. The latter are delightfully fruitful, but they are barely taller than we are. We wanted to make a statement, show the neighborhood how trees can make the world a better place.

We began with a silver dollar eucalyptus in the northwest corner of the back yard. It was planted in September of 1999, and it has grown quickly, its leaves shimmer in the slightest breeze. It will soon exceed the height of the holly tree.

The following March, we acquired a red flowering eucalyptus to screen our bedroom window from the ugly condos in the next block. It began to do its job well within a couple of years, having reached a height of about 12 feet. Unfortunately, in late 2002 a fierce storm snapped off the main trunk half way up, and that ugly condo was visible again. I sawed the tree flush just below the break, and within a few weeks a small sprout appeared just below the cut. That sprout immediately went vertical, and today it looks almost the same as it did before the storm.

When we bought the red flowering eucalyptus, the nursery salesman showed us a bay tree, the kind with leaves that you can put in soup and stuff. Ahh, that smelled good. We had to have it. It was an impulse purchase. It went into the ground between the driveway and the neighbor's fence. Its a slow grower, and today it is only about 7 feet tall, about twice its original height. The same is true of two podocarpus we planted a year or so later for some vertical interest along the back fence. They're just now beginning to peek into the neighbor's back yard.

There's something about planting a tree and watching it grow. I watched the two eucalyptus trees carefully They started less than four feet tall, and I watched with great anticipation as they progressed, week after week, month after month. I measured them against myself, and felt great joy when they first reached above my head. Soon they began looking like real trees, and they will soon become a part of the neighborhood skyline.

Fast forward now to last summer. We hired a gardener to tidy up our much neglected front yard. Overall he did a very nice job, but on his first day he left a lady helper unattended with instructions to pull weeds. Instead this crazy lady yanked out a large lavender bush at the corner where the driveway meets the sidewalk. She said "it was dry." IDIOT! It was perfectly healthy and in full bloom! I shooed her off the property and called the gardener. He said he would replace it right away.

To make a long story short, he did a nice job landscaping the rest of the yard, but he never replaced our bush. I was angry enough to finally stop calling him and throw his number away. But then I started thinking. Maybe he did us a favor. That might make a great place for a tree.

Thus began the quest for just the right tree. We had to choose more carefully this time, due to its proximity to a public sidewalk and, this is the big problem, overhead power lines.

It took several visits to nurseries, and lots of perusing in the Sunset Western Garden Book. At first we figured we needed something short and skinny. However, we couldn't find anything we liked that wasn't a puny glob of leaves on a stick. We wanted something bolder. But finding a bold tree to fit in a small area is quite difficult. We thought a Jacaranda might be a good choice, with its spectacular blue blooms. But the ones the nursery had were either too large to fit in the car, or too heavily manicured to grow the way it needed to grow.

Then the fellow at Valley Hills nursery suggested the California Pepper Tree (Schinus Molle) which is actually a native of Peru. It has a nice feathery leaf arrangement that lets light filter through, a slight drooping characteristic, like a moderately weeping willow, and large bright red clusters of marginally edible peppercorn-like things in the fall. Its maximum height was within our parameters, but I was afraid it might grow too wide.

The nurseryman directed me to view two mature specimens, one behind Colton Hall, the other on Van Buren and Scott streets, just up from the First Theater. Bingo! These mature trees were absolutely wonderful! They had hefty, burly trunks. Spectacular twisted limbs spread wide, high enough to clear the sidewalk and driveway, but low enough to avoid the power lines. One in our front yard would make a bold statement to the neighborhood that this tree is here to stay. Even in youth, these trees are very attractive. In age, they are spectacular.

But then doubts began to creep in. The Sunset garden book said the leaves may cause dermatitis. Some websites suggested the pollen can cause asthma. Would this be a good tree or not?

Finally, on Saturday when I was driving from one shopping area to another, I saw one on the street behind the Carmel Mission, another in its courtyard, and a couple more on Rio Road. They were all perfectly beautiful. I figured, if it was good enough for the mission courtyard, it was certainly good enough for us.

So I went right to the nursery, plunked down ten bucks for a little three foot tall specimen, took it straight home, and planted it.

It reaches just above my stomach.