Imagine if Everyone Planted One Tree

Connect with your inner tree hugger.

The seemingly small act of planting a tree can help heal our planet and the people living on it. Collectively we have the power to reforest the Earth.

A wonderful aspect of tree planting is that it enables you to do something positive with lasting value using your own two hands. If you can safely operate a shovel and a watering can, you can plant a tree.

“The great French Marshall Lyautey once asked his gardener to plant a tree. The gardener objected that the tree was slow-growing and would not reach maturity for 100 years. The Marshall replied, ‘In that case, there is no time to lose; plant it this afternoon!’”

John F. Kennedy

This post is a continuation of a tree planting story that began on a cold winter evening last January in the community room of the Rabobank down the street from our house.

My spouse and I had walked to the Cambria Forest Committee meeting to hear Rick Hawley from Greenspace talk about Monterey pine trees (we live in a Monterey pine forest).

Six months later, I am caring for 18 Monterey pine seedlings that we planted in our yard and 78 Monterey pine sprouts that I grew from seeds for a tree-planting project in our public forest.

If you are interested in catching up from the beginning of the story, read the posts Mother Nature Needs Our Help – Let’s Plant Trees and Arbor Day 2019 – Let’s Plant Trees. Or just pick up the thread here.

Caring for Tree Seedlings

My original plan had been to plant 40 Monterey pine tree seedlings in our yard as part of a larger effort to restore our small patch of land.

Fortunately, I came to my senses before buying 40 seedlings.

I was already watching over about twenty pots that I had planted with native plant seeds and a dozen or so plant seedlings growing in our yard. It occurred to me that perhaps trying to keep track of 40 tiny tree seedlings would be a bit daunting.

I decided to buy 20 seedlings and called Rick Hawley to arrange to pick them up at Greenspace’s office.

On a sunny day at the end of January, my spouse and I carefully scouted locations in our yard and planted the 12” tall Monterey pine tree seedlings.

Almost immediately, I realized I would need some kind of markers or I would not be able to find the seedlings as the wild grasses surrounding them continued growing up to 4-6 feet tall.

Walking around the yard installing the markers we discovered that one seedling had had an accident and died and one seedling was never found. That left us with 18.

The first two months or so we continued to have rain so the seedlings did not require supplemental watering. I weed-whacked paths leading to the areas where the seedlings were growing so I could check on them periodically.

Who Needs Water Next?

I knew the rain would stop at some point and that the seedlings would need to be watered during the dry season to help them become established in their new homes.

Our yard does not have irrigation so that meant watering by hand with my 2-gallon watering can.

We had kept a few plants and Rosie our venerable climbing rose bush alive during the drought with the watering can and buckets so this seemed reasonable to me. Besides, I would be able to keep a close eye on what was going on with the seedlings.

Boy was I naive.

When it was only native plants in the yard, pots on the deck, and some house plants needing watering, I could easily keep an informal watering rotation schedule in my head. But, after the first month of watering the 18 tree seedlings, I could not keep track of who needed to be watered next.

Using a spreadsheet program I created a simple schedule and posted it on our refrigerator. At the end of each watering day, I check off what I have watered. Sometimes I do not have time to water on a specific day so I mark the day that I did water. I do not water the plants every week, but I do water the Monterey pine tree seedlings once a week.

Monterey Pine Seedling 10 after 6 Months - August 4, 2019
At about 23″ tall Monterey pine seedling 10 has doubled in height since it was planted in our yard 6 months ago – August 4, 2019.
Time Crunch

Hiking around the yard carrying 16 pounds of water sloshing around in a watering can is good exercise. I enjoyed visiting the tree seedlings to see how they were doing and felt happy that they looked well.

California Poppy Growing in Our Yard - May 1, 2019

This constant traipsing through the yard also enabled me to spot wildflowers here and there and even an occasional California poppy before a mule deer cruising through the yard spotted it and ate it.

Unfortunately, all that watering was more time consuming than I had anticipated. As much as I love being outside in the yard, like most people, I have many other commitments so I needed a way to make watering take less time.

Using hoses seemed like an obvious and simple solution so my spouse and I headed to the local hardware store where we purchased two hoses and two brass nozzles. We attached the hoses to spigots on the exterior of our house.

About half the seedlings cannot be reached by either hose. In this case, I drag a hose as far as I can and then fill up the watering can from that location reducing the distance I need to walk back and forth refilling the can.

Problem solved.

Next, we will look in on the progress of the Monterey pine tree sprouts that germinated from the seeds I planted for the forest tree-planting project.

Growing Trees from Seeds

Rick Hawley Helping People Plant Monterey Pine Seeds at Earth Day on April 21, 2019
Rick Hawley (blue shirt) from Greenspace helping tree enthusiasts plant Monterey pine seeds at Earth Day on April 21, 2019 – photo courtesy of Greenspace.

When my spouse and I arrived at the Greenspace Earth Day festival on April 21, I was excited to see Rick Hawley at his Monterey pine seed booth. He handed me a rack of 98 tubes mostly filled with soil and a plastic bag containing 100 seeds.

Linda Poppenheimer Planting Monterey Pine Seeds at Earth Day - April 21, 2019
This is me sitting in the shade of a tree planting Monterey pine seeds in a rack containing 98 tubes at Earth Day on April 21, 2019.

When we arrived home with our precious cargo, we discussed possible locations for placing the rack where it would get sun and a bit of shade. The deck outside our kitchen and dining room seemed an ideal location so we put two small slatted wooden tables together and set the rack on it.

Mindful of what Rick had said about birds grabbing the seed casing attached to the top of sprouts and then “accidentally” ripping the sprout out, I asked my handy spouse to make a cover for the seedling rack. Several days later, I placed a removable chicken wire box over the rack.

I watered the seed tubes weekly and waited.

It Takes Many Seeds to Grow a Tree
Monterey Pine Seed Rack First Sprout - May 13, 2019

On May 13th I was thrilled to spot two sprouts. The seed casings were still attached so I was glad for the protective cover. By mid-June, 16 tree sprouts were visible growing above the rims of the tubes.

To me, this seemed low considering that I had planted 98 seeds.

I felt like a loser like I had done something wrong but I had no idea what. Would the seeds have done better in a different location or with more or less water?

Hmm, perhaps my feeling of failure was a holdover from the decades I had spent working in corporate America where performance metrics are used to determine your value and measure you against other employees.

When I thought about it some more, I realized that a Monterey pine tree produces pine cones with thousands of seeds in the hope that at least one will make it to maturity.

I contacted Rick and asked him if I could have more seeds. Of course, he said yes.

On June 18, I carefully planted 82 seeds in the empty tubes. By July 11, there were a total of 49 sprouts growing in the rack. A couple of days later, I planted the remaining seeds in the empty tubes.

As of yesterday, I am tending 78 Monterey pine tree seedlings of various ages.

Monterey Pine Seed Rack with Cover - August 4, 2019
This is the chicken wire cover my spouse made to protect our Monterey pine sprouts. In the sixth tube from the left in the front row you can see a seed casing attached to a new sprout – August 4, 2019.

Every morning, I walk out onto the deck greeting the seedlings and asking them how they are doing. Yes, I am one of those people who talks to plants. I also converse with the birds, deer, and other animals who visit our yard.

Come November, I am looking forward to meeting and talking with the other tree growers and planting our trees.

Imagine if you, I, and everyone else who is old enough to use a shovel planted just one tree. We would have billions of additional trees generating oxygen, being beautiful, sequestering carbon dioxide, giving shade, and helping heal our planet—and us.

“When we plant trees, we plant the seeds of peace and hope.”

Wangari Maathai

Featured Image at Top: This is my rack of Monterey pine sprouts on August 4, 2019.

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The Landscaping Ideas of Jays – Book Review

Meet Mother Nature’s gardening experts.

If you do not usually seek gardening advice from the native flora and fauna in your community, you will after reading The Landscaping Ideas of Jays.

Yes, you read that correctly. I do mean the plants, insects, trees, birds, bees, animals, and grasses that are native to where you live. “How so?” you ask.  Read the book and you will understand.

There were two reasons that I felt certain I would enjoy reading Judith Larner Lowry’s book The Landscaping Ideas of Jays: a Natural History of the Backyard Restoration Garden.

The first is that I too am a backyard restorationist, although unlike Lowry, I am an amateur.

The second reason is that I had previously read and loved her book Gardening with a Wild Heart. As she waxed poetic about coyote bush (the first native plant I learned to identify) and talked about coveting her neighbor’s wood chip pile, I felt we were kindred spirits.

The copy of The Landscaping Ideas of Jays I just read was loaned to me by a native plant enthusiast named Linda whom I met through the San Luis Obispo chapter of the California Native Plant Society.

I must have mentioned to Linda that Gardening with a Wild Heart is one of my favorite books during a stint working with her behind the book table at a chapter meeting because she told me she owned another book by Judith Larner Lowry and offered to loan it to me.

I accepted and she brought the book to the next meeting.

Book Review

Before you begin reading The Landscaping Ideas of Jays, I suggest that you lather on the sunscreen, fill up your reusable water bottle, and grab some seed collecting envelopes because you will be wandering about with Judith Larner Lowry in her garden and the wild. You might want to bring along some snacks, too, as there will be many side trips and times to dawdle and reflect.

The chapters in the book are loosely grouped into seasons beginning with fall and ending with what Lowry calls the fifth season.

The Landscaping Ideas of Jays Book Cover

The setting for the book is California and the characters are mostly native California plants and animals with cameo appearances by California indigenous people both past and present. However, the book’s ideas and messages are universal.

Fall

Perhaps you are familiar with the term keynote speaker, meaning the speaker who sets the tone or theme for an event. In this part of the book, you will learn about designing a garden around keynote birds and plants and how California quail and coyote bush fill the keynote roles in Lowry’s restoration garden. The following excerpt is about quail.

“In exchange for room in our gardens, they give the graceful gift of thriving among us. As they skim fences, ignoring property rights and heading for what they need regardless of who owns it, they stitch neighborhoods together, providing a local totem and a topic of much conversation.”

Wherever you live, there is sure to be a keynote bird and/or plant that would love to visit or find a home in your yard or garden.

Winter

This segment begins with a chapter intriguingly called “Eating the Rain” and quickly moves to wintertime storytelling as Lowery acquaints you with the histories of three botanical women and their contributions to California native plant knowledge.

“In the winter I read long hours, dipping into the California native plant literary canon. It seems that the three women whose lives and contributions I describe in this part, Lester Rowntree, Edith Van Allen Murphey, and Gerda Isenberg, have been with me for a long time, inspiring and supporting my endeavors, and those of many of my fellow native plant lovers, though of the three I knew only Gerda.”

Reading the winter section you will also receive lessons from the forest and learn how salmon nourish the woods.

Spring

You will be introduced to spring through flowers and the expansive fields of California wildflowers that draw people from all over the world, most holding a camera or smartphone.

“Visitors from other galaxies might understandably conclude that placing small rectangular objects between our eyes and the world is the way we humans worship natural phenomenon.”

Other tales include the “you’ll be sorry” plant, weed-free neighbor zones, and what a rock knows.

Summer and the Fifth Season

The summer and fifth season sections contain advice about designing and caring for restoration gardens. This includes discourse about plants, trees, ponds, pollinators, paths, animals, and praise for bare dirt (in moderation).

The fifth season will remain a mystery until you read the book however; many Californians may be able to guess what it is.

Near the end of the book, Lowry will caution you about embarking on gardening endeavors that exceed your financial, physical, or time-related limitations and suggests taking on significantly less than you think you can handle.

The above advice is followed by Lowry’s First Law of Gardening.

“The law is this: The land requires our attention. Either you pay attention, or you hire somebody to pay attention, but attention, one way or another, must be paid.”

The Bottom Line

Judith Larner Lowry is the longtime owner of Larner Seeds in Bolinas, CA, which carries over 200 species of California native wildflowers, grasses, shrubs, and trees. In addition to caring for her own garden, she designs gardens using California native plants, conducts workshops, gives talks, writes articles, and is the author of several books.

Often when I am reading a book, I think how interesting it would be to meet and talk with its author. Lowry strikes me as not only a person I would enjoy meeting and discussing native plants with but also someone who would be a wonderful neighbor.

Although not a step-by-step guide for designing a restoration garden or growing native plants, The Landscaping Ideas of Jays contains a lot of useful information and practical advice. It is a beautifully written book filled with inspiration, stories, humor, ideas, and Lowry’s musings about how our yards or gardens can connect us to the places where we live.

I recommend The Landscaping Ideas of Jays to anyone who wants to pay attention to their yard or garden and to make it place where native plants, flowers, trees, grasses, bees, birds, and animals can thrive.

Featured Image at Top: This is a California scrub-jay (Aphelocoma californica) grasping an acorn in its beak – photo credit iStock/pchoui.

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