The Plant Man


Caring for a Legacy


“Suburbia is where the developer bulldozes out the trees, then names the streets after them.”

–Bill Vaughan


Somewhere walking between Eagle Rock and Main Beach on Thanksgiving morning, it occurred to me not for the first time that it is the lovely trees of maturity that separate our village from all others nearby.


Fred Lang was responsible for the introduction of the Torrey pine into Laguna nearly 70 years ago.  In fact, his admiration of the tree was such that he planted three on his own property and the two surviving trees are known as a local landmark.

The project architect for a remodel of Lang’s original cottage, now owned by his daughter, Katie Lang Slattery, has stated that the design program was predicated on retaining the trees.  Similar situations often lead the Design Review Board to find itself struggling to balance an applicant’s aspiration for superior garden design and retention of beautiful, older trees, versus a neighbor’s desire for unobstructed ocean vistas with nary a tall shrub in sight.

Mind you, as a horticulturist and land use consultant, I am aware trees are not always an issue concerning view. Privacy and safety concerns have also dominated Laguna news of late.  Sometimes, in the case of the Lang Torrey pines, it’s a stickier situation possibly rooted in cultural care and potentially mired in city policy.

Clearly, the Torrey pines were shown on the DRB plans, and the application was approved with the condition that the trees be preserved.  Removal of the trees would be a code enforcement violation.

Katie Slattery asks, “When do property rights and quality of life issues trump tree preservation?” The sap from the trees apparently “coats everything… Having lived under them for five years, I now realize I made a mistake.”

As most arborists will espouse, if a Torrey pine does not have any dead growth in it, don’t prune.  If the pine has grown too large for a space, consider thoughtfully pruning to lace the structure, to reduce foliage weight and size.  The only time to prune should be during the cooler months of November through February.  Otherwise, warmer weather encourages the secretion of active sap flow escaping from pruning wounds.

Additionally, over-watering can encourage rank growth, which begins the cycle of unwanted pruning and the possibility of sap dripping onto public and private areas.

Katie Slattery acknowledges, “In Laguna Beach it is a difficult call, and, as the daughter of a landscape architect, I understand the issues.”  In a season of celebration, let’s hope that good cultural practices, assistance from the city’s public works department, and other interested parties will make this a great holiday for Katie and her trees.  See you next time.

Steve Kawaratani is a 60 year resident of Laguna Beach.  He can be contacted at 949.494.5141 or [email protected].



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