Friday, September 5, 2014

Conservation International partners with RMA

Many young workers who have moved to DC know local cafés, gyms and other hangouts. But they know nothing about the trees they pass on the street every day. This view was expressed by a group of volunteers organized by Conservation International (CI) in a workshop with Restore Mass Ave on August 16.

The group, organized by Natalie Omundson of CI, first cleared out tree boxes in the 2400 block of Mass. One "neediest case" was a young elm tree next to the street, surrounded by an orange construction fence which enclosed the tree, plus trash piles and weeds.  

Volunteers cleared this tree box, raising the tree's odds of survival.
It took 7 people - led by RMA Treekeeper Robert Thomason - to clear out the tree box - poking through the fence and setting it back afterwards. Why the mess? This tree is 10 feet from a massive embassy renovation at 2406 Mass. Thankfully the construction firm,  Forrester, has protected and fenced this little tree.  But its soil is compacted and it needs water.  RMA will follow up to get the embassy next door to provide water, and get Forrester to help it survive.  

Afterwards, the volunteers discussed trees on their streets and guessed their types and condition. They considered how they might help those trees.

Conservation International is a very large nonprofit; its projects in 33 countries address big problems such as species loss and deforestation.  But the volunteers said that from the Arlington, Va. headquarters, they don't normally visit actual projects or see near-term results.  

That's why actively helping trees here in DC, was fun, they said. Ms. Omundson said they hoped to work with RMA on other projects.
                                                                                       - Deborah Shapley  (Photos: RMA)

Conservation International volunteers.
RMA's Robert Thomason (blue shirt) in the discussion session.        

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Volunteer tree care season under way

At top, our volunteer Treekeepers help two linden trees by a busy bus stop, where people need cool and shade. Below, Treekeepers remove rocks and clay hindering young elms by the Embassies of Georgia and Turkmenistan.

Above Mikel and Joe Witte dug away dirt, glass, and junk packed around one stressed linden. Michael Kinzer swept this discarded stuff into a tarp so we could carry it to the public trash.
Embassy Row Hotel (2015 Mass) connected its spigot to our hose, so we gave these thirsty trees lots of water. Shown are the hotel's Derek Strickland Jr. and Max Noyes with Treekeepers.

The trees we helped in another session were two little elms which RMA and Casey Trees had planted to rebuild the historic second row in the 2200 block of Mass. Their roots were suffocating from clay and rocks that had piled up in the sloping yards. 

At left is the hole we dug to excavate the base of the little elm by the Embassy of Turkmenistan (2207 Mass).

Below, Treekeeper Matt Milano pulls out the stake around the next-door elm at the Embassy of Georgia (2209 Mass). Garrett Steed needed a pickaxe to excavate the hard clay around this tree.

Later Rob Nevitt mulched both trees. We gave them several doses of water.  Both embassies will follow up. Now that these trees' roots can get water and air directly, they should grow better.

Photos: Above RMA. Below: RMA Richard Royce

We tag one elm to show  its benefits. As a 2.5" American elm it provides $8 in annual benefits. IF we can grow it to 8" in diameter the tree will give back $52 per year, according to   But whether young city trees ever reach their mature size is a big IF. They need help! 
To get notices of August and September volunteer sessions, please email  We hope to greet you under the trees!

-- Deborah Shapley, Restore Mass Ave

Friday, June 13, 2014

Model mulch project starts our summer program

This summer the sidewalk trees here will be stressed. The sun beats down during the long, hot days; also its heat reflects back from the pavement.  People bake and choke on bare sidewalks. Likewise,  the root systems of sidewalk trees need all the water they can get plus exchanges of fresh air.

RMA hired Professional Gardens LLC to yank weeds, grass and debris away from 33 important sidewalk trees on Embassy Row. How much weedy dirt can 33 trees have messing them up? More than one truckful, it turned out. 
The  crew spread shredded hardwood mulch - but thinly, so water from rainfall and hoses can flow easily to each tree's base. Please pass here and see model, flat mulched squares around these trees.  In this video proprietor Ricky Fuentes shows how to do it.

What's next?
---RMA will be reminding local owners to water the trees, 25 gallons per week, until fall. As the weeds start up again, we'll remind owners to pull them out so the trees will fare better. 
-- Our summer tree care workshops will give special help to other trees. Teams of  Treekeepers deploy for a few hours, mostly on weekends. We can host groups for community service. For info please email

Help us nurture rows of shade trees that make Embassy Row a 'cool' summer hangout.                                                                                                                                - Deborah Shapley

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Embassy open house visitors learn about trees

May 3 and 10, 2014
We spoke with hundreds of people about our work reviving the trees and historic landscape on Embassy Row, in the course of two glorious weekends here.

The general public is invited to visit embassies free of charge on two Saturdays in May. These open houses, organized by Passport DC, have become wildly popular. The sidewalks of Embassy Row are jammed. People form long lines for entry to an impressive interior showcasing that nation's art and culture, to sample cuisine and take away tourism info and souveniers. They also feel what it's like to be in the public space here - under the trees or in the hot sun on the still-bare bare parts of the avenue.

On May 3 RMA reps met people of all ages and backgrounds at our table on the sidewalk by the Embassy of Zambia. The following Saturday we spoke with even more people at the British Embassy, which reported more than 8,000 visitors that day.

We hope those we met will echo our message: you too can grow healthy city trees. Those who gave us their contact info will be sent our educational messages and news.

We also hope our new friends will join in our work saving one of the nation's treasured streets.
With their help, we can have shadier sidewalks for the crowds next year.

                                        - Deborah Shapley

More photos on Twitter @restoremassave.
To learn more please email

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Tree buds: Close-up and revealing

Finally, area temperatures have warmed enough to tell trees here to start budding.  In early April Restore Mass Ave's new photographer, Richard Royce, set out to record the miracle of trees' rebirth.

These magnolias can be seen along Embassy Row. So are emerging buds of elm and linden.

Inspect them closely to see the excitement of their growth on a tiny scale, yet multiplied thousands of times on a single tree.

The buds will become more visible as they enlarge into leaf clusters, soon forming the pleasant green haze that we visualize as the start of spring.

But the human eye is late to the trees' ancient cycles. The buds have been forming inside the twigs during the long, windy winter.

Why did our non-profit work to get all our trees watered and mulched last fall, up to the first frost? As nourishment, so their internal regeneration would proceed until the moment they chose to show their beauty to us once again.

This past winter Restore Mass Ave has been nourished by new friends and allies. Here we thank Richard in particular for his skill and love for trees.
 --  Deborah Shapley, President, RMA

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Restore Mass Ave at State Department

The majestic trees and park-like landscape of Embassy Row form a unique street landscape in the nation, RMA President Deborah Shapley explained in a briefing at the State Department Office of Foreign Missions (OFM) on March 5.
RMA arranged the meeting so that OFM staff and various city officials could describe their respective procedures for approving alterations to buildings and landscape when foreign-owned properties are involved.

Leaders of neighborhood groups were invited to expressed concerns that some recent Embassy Row construction projects have violated the  character of the street and neighborhood.

A welter of rules apply to these projects. There are the diplomatic and security considerations handled by OFM; the street, sidewalk and tree issues are handled by DC's Department of Transportation.  Finally local codes and historic preservation rules apply to fences, paving, statues, flags and signs.

The challenge, Ms. Shapley said, is how to organize approvals of initial plans for an embassy renovation - and the later changes during the job - so the sweeping, park-like landscape of the historic Grand Avenue is undisturbed. And so the public traveling the busy Mass Ave thoroughfare can see and appreciate the seqeuence of Beaux Arts mansions framed by trees.

But how to re-create historic vistas with so many stakeholders involved? Many embassies have taken pride in new trees for lawns and yards arranged by RMA since 2007; many now care for nearby city trees in the sidewalk. RMA works with ~30 foreign-owned properties and adds more "participants" to its program each season, Ms. Shapley said.

State Department officials were supportive of getting all parties to preserve the green and historic character of Embassy Row.

“Green diplomacy is not something we talk about; it's something we practice," Clifton C. Seagroves, Director of the OFM property office said after the meeting.

Though the meeting was on background, here are a few slides from the briefing to show how landscape and architecture harmonized along the original Grand Avenue a century ago.  Also  things that block or distract from crucial views.

These slides preview RMA's Historic Landscape Initiative and its forthcoming illustrated book, A Grand Avenue Revival, whose design and printing is supported by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.   - Deborah Shapley              

Thursday, February 6, 2014

17 New Trees Add Canopy to Embassy Row

 Look for 8 new trees in a line marching north from the busy corner of Mass Ave and 34th Streets by the Norway Embassy.

They're all silver linden - Tilia tomentosa - in an even-spaced row to replicate the historic landscape of Mass Ave.  Restore Mass Ave suggested planting this row after the trees there were lost in storms.

We're grateful to the city Urban Forestry Administration (UFA/DDOT) for planting this row. In the photos below, taken last summer, UFA Arborist Vera (Munevver) Ertem marks where the new trees will be planted. The left photo shows the huge stump of the 100+year old tree that had been lost. At right Vera measures from one tree's center to the next, so they would be evenly spaced.

What's the pink dot on the curb? It is UFA-speak for plant tree here!

During her visit, Vera spotted other holes in the long lines of tilia by the curb in front of the forest opposite the Naval Observatory/Vice President's Residence. So she painted more red dots, thus deciding another 9 lindens would be added. Now these slender saplings have been planted, each with a pair of stakes to protect it from Mass Ave's high winds. These 17 new lindens bring to 300 the number of new trees Restore Mass Ave has arranged to date.

Why lindens on Mass Ave? The leaders of post-Civil War Washington revered the tree-lined formal thoroughfares of Paris and Berlin. So they landscaped Mass Ave with double rows of linden trees. In the 1870s and 1880 linden rows stretched on Mass Ave for five miles across town. When Mass Ave was extended another two miles to Wisconsin Ave, 500 more lindens were added in double rows, in 1904-05.  Some of these elderly witnesses still stand - though they won't be with us much longer.

At right you see the bracts and 
fruits of a silver linden on Mass Ave in early summer.
The linden blooms and scent were prized
additions to streets in
Europe and America. 
The trees were closely planted for a great experience 
walking and riding in carriages under them.