Longing For Trees

By Teo Spengler | April 16, 2021
by Teo Spengler
April 16, 2021

I am very fortunate to have the outdoor space I do in an urban center like San Francisco. So many people live in apartments and have only a fire escape in which to hang a plant or two. But the neighborhood in which I live, called the Outer Richmond, is mostly single family homes and many have good-sized backyards.

That means I have a large outdoor space that has both sunshine and challenges. But it is certainly my number one spot to de-stress. 

Challenges of Planting

Since I moved in several years ago, I have planted shrubs, succulents, flowers and a veggie garden. It’s a challenge since the soil is 100 percent sand. The entire area of town was built on sand dunes, which is neither a particularly great situation during an earthquake nor particularly auspicious for a garden. 

But enough plants grow to make the space peaceful and appealing. The wooden deck is lined in containers, each one overflowing with foliage and blossoms. Around the outside of the raised deck we’ve positioned raised wooden planters filled with a wild variety of succulents. And on the deck, a wooden table with two chairs and a lawn chair. 

Encouraging Wildlife

You may imagine that in a city like San Francisco, there is little in the way of local wildlife. But you would be wrong. With the huge Golden Gate Park on one side and the Presidio parklands on the other, it’s easy to find a variety of creatures in your outdoor space. This is especially true for those encouraging wildlife. 

What does “encouraging wildlife” mean practically? Bird feeders and hummingbird feeders keep our feathered friends happy – and this gives me lots of peaceful chirps and beautiful birds to admire when I relax in my outdoor space. But that’s not all. Two squirrels recently took up residence in the tall, spreading bougainvillea shrub, and a family of raccoons lives under the porch. I hear them at night and I peek out to see the mother and three babies heading to the big  water basin I leave out for them. I’ve had opossums and skunks too, not to mention mice and rats.

Longing for Trees

So this is where I relax, write, meditate. The sounds of the birds and the wind in the shrubs makes me happy, the peaceful morning fog, the brilliant sunset sky over the Pacific. Yet there is one thing missing from my outdoor space that makes me miss my little house in France, and that is trees.

Trees are, to me, the best company. They provide nurture and habitat for birds and animals, and the sound of their leaves murmuring in a breeze is the sweetest lullaby. Few trees will grow on sand, and I have had little success: a stunted apple tree, no taller than I am, a Meyer lemon in a large container, a pokeweed shrub that arrived unbidden, now 10 feet (3 m.) high. 

Sometimes I find myself longing for trees. The city is full of parks where I can experience coastal redwoods, eucalyptus, ornamental palms and magnolias, and this helps. But there is nothing like having trees in your personal, outdoor space to make you realize you are not alone.

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