Village Matters: Landscape of Legend

By Ann Christoph.
By Ann Christoph.

We could trace the development of the town through the eyes of Laguna’s plein air painters, Kleitsch adding color, Hinkle subduing the landscape with white and black.  Still the landscape was predominant as the buildings were fitted in and plantings made the cottages home. These plein air landscapes—views of canyons, mountains, village, coastline and ocean were presented in early October by Eric Jessen as part of a seminar on the Landscape and Scenic Highways Element.

In a follow up public input session, artist Leah Vasquez described a pre-1970 Laguna Canyon Road, with its canopy of oaks. “Envision Live Oak Canyon Road in Laguna Canyon; that’s what it was like, continuous arching oak branches sheltering the road, before they cut down most of the trees to widen the shoulder.”  Recreating that oak wooded canyon is her vision, and now that we’ve heard about a beautiful landscape many of us never knew, it may be ours too.

Bringing us to the present situation, Liza Stewart reported from the pest control seminar she recently attended. “Every 45 days a new plant disease-causing organism is introduced into California.”

Recently I was called to a client’s garden to look at an oak tree that had suddenly died.  We still don’t know the cause, but there are many to select from: oak root fungus, red beetle borer, bacterial infections, ambrosia and bark beetles, or a combination.  The mighty oaks are actually among the most delicate plants. But they’re not alone in their susceptibility to diseases and insects. These have caused us to lose plants that have been taken for granted as mainstays of our California landscape. Olives, oleander, hibiscus, and Pittosporum/Victorian box succumb in large numbers and, according to the experts, citrus and ficus are next in line to be affected by new and innovative pests.

One by one, or group by group, our landscape is becoming depleted because of disease.  Subtract also the trees that are removed for other reasons and not replaced, and we are looking at a future Laguna landscape that is less vibrant and sheltering than the memorable images that make up Laguna’s treasured character.

We all know and say life is fleeting, things change, nothing’s permanent, but the acceleration of change in our landscape due to disease and removal is extraordinary.

We’re having difficulty coping with the diseases; many are beyond our control. But we can appreciate the living plants we do have, and we can lovingly recreate cherished landscapes. We can continue blending our urban life into a village scene, keeping the legend alive.


Landscape architect Ann Christoph served on Laguna Beach’s City Council in the ‘90s.


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