If you live in an urban environment like I do, your sidewalk might come up all the way to your front steps and garage door. No room for a patch of grass, a boring boxwood hedge, a wonderful native garden…nothing except the weeds that grow in the cracks. Concrete as far as the eye can see. What an eyesore! But thanks to Friends of the Urban Forest (FUF), we had a 4′x6′ square of concrete removed from our “yard” and planted a beautiful primrose tree (Lagunaria pattersonii). Ours was one of approximately 25 trees planted in sidewalks in the Bernal Heights neighborhood of San Francisco on Saturday morning. Experienced tree planters led homeowners and volunteers in planting and appropriately staking our trees. Our particular group planted four trees: a bronze loquat (Eriobotrya deflexa), two evergreen pear trees (Pyrus kawakamii), and our primrose (L. pattersonii).
Here are some pictures from the plantings (click picture for larger image):
The urban environment is not the most hospitable place for trees, especially wind-blown San Francisco with its many micro-climates. What grows well in one neighborhood might not have a fighting chance in another. Choosing the right tree was difficult for us because of the combination of breezy afternoons and heavy clay soil. We also had the dilemma of not being able to plant our tree curbside because of underground utilities and city codes on sidewalk widths, so our tree had to closer to our house than most street trees. I looked for natives, but none would grow in our conditions (nor did any grow in San Francisco before it was a city – just chaparral plants grew here). We considered several different wind-tolerant trees that can handle clay soil and ended up choosing the primrose for its ability to handle these adverse conditions and it’s rather upright shape in its youth. We couldn’t be happier!
Lagunaria pattersonii has a variety of common names other than primrose. This Australian native is sometimes called the cow itch tree, Queensland pyramid tree, and Norfolk Island hibiscus. It’s in the same family as the hibiscus (Malvaceae) that grow so well in tropical locations, but it’s not in the same genus so the flowers are not nearly as flashy. L. pattersonii produces 1-2″ purple or pink (fading to white) 5-petaled flowers in late spring and summer. The seed pods have small hairs on them that can irritate your skin, so proceed with caution (or throw them at people you don’t like).
The planting was such a great experience for all of us – meeting neighbors, learning how to trees, and, most of all, greening our city! Our block didn’t have any trees on our side of the street until today. We’re hoping that our neighbors will like what they see and want a plant in front of their homes, too!
Friends of the Urban Forest has been planting trees in San Francisco for the last 30 years. According to their executive director, of the approximately 108,000 trees in San Francisco, about 45% have been planted by FUF since 1981. These are amazing results from such a spectacular organization! And now that the City of San Francisco is handing over most of its street trees to individual property owners, FUF will play an even more integral role in informing the public on appropriate care and maintenance.
If you live in San Francisco and want a street tree or your cement broken up to put in some native plants, please contact Friends of the Urban Forest. If you live elsewhere, there are many other great organizations, such as Urban Releaf in Oakland, California, Forest Keepers in Missouri, Woodland Trust in the United Kingdom, and Friends of Trees in and around Portland, Oregon. There are more than I can list here, so do a Google search to find one nearest you so that you, too, can grow a tree in your sidewalk!
- S.F. begins turning tree care over to residents (sfgate.com)