Living in the Trees

Thoughtful pruning is the key to having both privacy and spectacular views. The Smiths see the Cascades through the canopy of trees that surround their home, and, despite the proximity of neighbors, the trees preserve a comfortable sense of seclusion.

"The view of the mountains is great," says Brian Smith of his hilltop Ashland home, "but on a daily basis the close-in look of the trees and wildlife and the changing of the seasons are what is really incredible."

To preserve that view, Brian and his wife, Diane Steffey-Smith, have gone to a lot of trouble to care for the trees on their hillside lot. When they bought their house 10 years ago, their wooded 2/3-acre lot was surrounded by apple orchards. Today, it is surrounded by subdivisions which are hardly apparent from inside the house. They have managed to maintain the sense of living in a forest by carefully tending the surrounding trees. Their lot includes black and white oak, madrone, California laurel, mountain mahogany, Douglas fir and ponderosa pine. They also planted one maple.

"People do talk about trees being messy, but they are important to have," says Diane.

Their view includes Interstate 5, which can be heard from the ridge. "The trees buffer us from sound," says Brian. "They also hold the soil on this hillside. And because of the shade of the trees in summer we rarely have to turn the air conditioner on."

To help protect the trees, Brian and Diane put pavers in the driveway instead of cementing it, ensuring the tree roots would still get plenty of water. Landscaping was done with the help of the lists of plants compatible with trees found in Sunset's Western Garden Book.

"What we've done," Brian explains, "is cut windows in the foliage in certain places to enhance the view, and then in other places we left branches to ensure privacy." It's also balanced so they get winter sun through the branches of the deciduous trees, but stay cool in summer.

Because they live in a fire zone, they must keep the trees limbed up and the grass and weeds mowed. "The trees are a lot of work," Brian says. "This time of year they drop tassels. In late fall the oaks drop acorns and it sounds like someone's throwing rocks all night long. Then in spring thousands of acorns start growing and if you don't get them right away they send out a root 18 inches long."


"But they give us lots of mulch for the garden," Diane counters, "and it isn't THAT much work."

When they added a garage and laundry room, they also made sure to keep the builder's trucks away from the trees.

"If you are having any kind of work done, you need to put a fence up," advises Tal Blankenship, forester with the Oregon State University Extension Service. "Ideally the fence should be out past the tree's drip line as far as possible. Roots go way beyond the drip line and if trucks are parked over [them] they can be permanently harmed. Most roots are in the top 18 inches of soil. So fence your trees and then monitor the site to make sure the workers don't move the fences."

Take good care of your trees and you'll discover, as Brian and Diane have, that even living in a suburban forest is learning to be at one with the seasons and the wildlife.

"We see deer and raccoons and foxes and turkeys," Brian says, pointing out the wildlife trails through the lot. "And we've counted almost 100 different birds," Diane adds.

It's a magic not usually experienced within city limits, made possible by trees.


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