Mountain Views News     Logo: MVNews     Saturday, September 22, 2012

MVNews this week:  Page 12



 Mountain Views News Saturday, September 22, 2012 

One Of A Kind: Featuring unique homes and gardens and the people who create them Story by Chris Bertrand. Photo by Frank McDonough 


The LA Arboretum in Arcadia recently announced an upcoming September 27 lecture by Frank Mc Donough, 
the Arboretum’s botanical information consultant. The topic, Tree Damage and the Great 2011 San Gabriel 
Valley Windstorm: Predestined or Preventable? has been on area residents’ minds, as communities assess the 
damage, make repairs and draft a reforestation plan. 

In addition to the hundreds of street trees and private property foliage lost in the storm, residents in Sierra 
Madre sadly watched the removal of the beloved California pepper tree that shaded Kersting Court for over 
a century, a victim of the storm’s wrath. As it was removed, citizens could easily see that the entire middle of 
the trunk had disintegrated, and was more of a potential hazard than even imagined.

Per a September 18 announcement by LA Supervisor Michael Antonovich, $1.9 million has been allocated for reforestation of the San 
Gabriel Valley’s cities, including $186,600 to Arcadia, $300,000 to Pasadena and $42, 812 to Sierra Madre. 

Now is the time to learn from the storm, and the associated tree failures, before we replant, according to Mc Donough. “Most of it was 
preventable” reflected Mc Donough, if we had all the knowledge we have today.

On day one after the storm, Mc Donough was out with his camera to document the tree failures for analysis. “A great percentage was 
human related,” he said. A particular threat to street trees is nearby construction, including sidewalks and streets built significantly 
after the tree matured, he explained.

“The root plate, the diameter of the roots under a tree,” he continued, “has to be a certain distance on both the windward and leeward 
sides of the tree. If you construct a sidewalk near an established tree, for instance, you can take out its ability to stand up to the wind.”

The root plate, according to Mc Donough, is the structure responsible for keeping the tree uprights. It does this using the force of 
friction that is generated between the root place and the soil. This force is greater, the more the tree weighs. A sidewalk installed late 
in the tree’s maturity significantly affects this mechanism because a decrease in the area of the root plate decreases the force of friction 
that is keeping the tree from falling over.The heartbreaking result of that scenario was seen on Huntington Drive in Arcadia after the 
storm. Tree after tree, mostly Deodar cedars, had uprooted, taking the sidewalks constructed when the street was widened, with them.

Another threat to trees is topping and thinning. Many residents and reputable tree companies top and thin trees, believing it will make 
them safer from wind damage. Mc Donough indicates that new research, done with technology not previously available, has measured 
that most naturally branched trees actually dampen the movement of the wind, rather than threaten the tree. 

He compares a naturally branched tree to a camera with a “steady cam” feature, removing the shakiness and unsteadiness.

A good general rule is to avoid construction under a tree’s canopy. A second important step is to use a consulting arborist, especially if 
there is a question about the health of a tree. This step, called a tree safety report, is important to maintain insurance coverage, if the 
tree falls at a later date. “It’s called the reasonably prudent man standard,” according to Mc Donough.

To find a professional consulting arborist, Mc Donough recommends using the organization’s website, 

In preparation for the September 27 lecture, Mc Donough has prepared an in depth analysis of what happened, where it happened and 
how to prevent most of it in the future, including mathematical calculations and graphs to be applied to individual tree planting sites. 

According to Jill Berry of the Arboretum, the lecture will include “an examination of trees destroyed or damaged by the major 
windstorm that swept through the area last year. There will be discussion of recent findings on tree failure, and proper tree care that 
can be applied to your garden, its trees and your safety. No doubt, you’ll leave with greater appreciation for those grand green beings 
that inhabit your property.” 

Mc Donough’s September 27 lecture is part of Lily Singer’s 8 week Arboretum series of lectures and 
field trips from 9:30 –Noon on Thursday in the Palm Room. For information and registration, call 
626-821-4623 or email


A listing that offers a home warranty presents a win-win for all parties. Sellers can use this 
attractive marketing tool to give buyers some added assurance and confidence in their purchase, 
by giving the buyers protection against failures in the home’s systems and appliances.

Not all home warranties are the same, however, so sellers should be careful to educate themselves 
about the differences in cost, coverage, and policy owner feedback among the various 
companies that offer these contracts. These warranties may cost between $250 and $500 for 
one year, but that investment is well worth the return when a confident buyer makes an offer.

Even if the seller does not offer such a policy, buyers are able to purchase one themselves, if 
they wish. Visit websites such as to check reviews and ratings 
with the Better Business Bureau. 

Also pay attention to what fees, if any, are charged for the service calls, and what exclusions 
may apply. All warranties offer a “basic coverage” policy, and you can often upgrade to include 
additional systems and appliances that are not included in the core package.

Chances are that the listing agent and buyer’s agent will have a list of recommended companies 
that offer these warranties, and will have worked with many buyers and sellers in the past 
who gave them feedback. Don’t be afraid to ask!


AT DESCANSO Design a dream green space 
– and learn to avoid ‘crimes against horticulture’


Billy Goodnick has a word of advice for landscapers 
compelled to carve plants into submission. 
Don’t do it. “People go into adversarial mode in 
trying to show the plant who is boss,” he said. The 
result is tortured topiaries: meatball bushes, lollipop 
trees and cubed shrubs.

 Goodnick – award-winning landscape architect, 
blogger, horticultural comedian, rock drummer 
– will present two gardening lectures at Descanso 
Gardens on Saturday, Oct. 6. The programs will 
serve up nuts and bolts advice spiced liberally with 
humor. The lectures are:

· “Design Like a Pro,” 11 a.m., in the Under the 
Oaks Theater.

· “Crimes Against Horticulture,” 2 p.m. in Van 
de Kamp Hall

In “Design Like a Pro,” he will deconstruct how a 
landscaper envisions a design project, considering 
factors like practicality, sustainability and beauty. 
Hankering for a cottage garden? Goodnick will 
explain how to achieve a specific look while substituting 
plants that suit the climate. The goal is 
outdoor living space that elevates the yard to “garden” 
status. “My tagline is beautiful, sustainable 
gardens,” he said.

 “Crimes Against Horticulture” is subtitled “When 
Bad Taste Meets Power Tools.” He will present a 
slideshow that exemplifies one of his pet peeves – 
weekend warriors who slice and dice shrubs with 
the enthusiasm of a Ginsu knife pitchman.

 Goodnick doesn’t mind topiary – in the right 
place. But many of these “crimes” seem to be reaction 
to a good plant in a bad location. “Every plant 
has its genetic destiny,” he said. “You have an obligation 
to understand how big that plant will get.” 
Rather than shear a plant into submission, he suggests 
planning before you plant.

 Goodnick was an in-demand studio drummer 
when he caught the “bonsai bug.” His interest in the 
miniature plants sparked further study and a new 
career. For 22 years, he was the City Landscape Architect 
for the City of Santa Barbara. He continues 
to design gardens for clients, while lecturing across 
the country about horticulture, blogging and writing 
the upcoming book, “Yards.”

 Goodnick’s lectures are free with Gardens admission: $8 adults, 
$6 seniors and students with I.D., $3 children 5-12, free for members 
and children 4 and younger. Descanso Gardens is located at 
1418 Descanso Drive, La Cañada Flintridge 91011. Information: 
(818) 949-4200.

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