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.

Friday, November 15, 2013

New! Our Street Tree Inventory Project

Does follow-up care of new-planted trees improve their chances of surviving? Do street trees that are well cared for grow bigger, sooner than those that don't get TLC?

Some forest scientists suspect the answer must be yes. We at Restore Mass Ave -- who are passionate about caring for trees -- believe that the care we arrange for DC street trees should raise the odds they will stick around for 10 or 20 years or longer.

But will they? To start tracking the growth of "our" street trees, RMA began an inventory. Our volunteers measured all the city trees along Mass Ave and related streets from Dupont Circle out to Rock Creek Park - about 1.5 street-miles and some 300 tree sites. We announced the Inventory Project Nov 4 as part of National NeighborWoods, sponsored by Alliance for Community Trees.

Our news video shows how to care for a little street tree to help it grow. It shows that the benefits of bigger trees are way bigger than those of little trees.

Why size matters: new RMA Street Tree Inventory Project
Video by Jazmin Garcia

The Embassy of Greece Military Office participated, because its staff takes model care of the DC street trees by the office. Lt. Col Ioannis Argyriadis said why his office is helping to "green" Washington.

Carlson Klapthor of the Urban Forestry Administration (UFA/DDOT), which plants these trees, spoke about the threats to them and urged neighbors including embassies to water and mulch them regularly.

Marty Scherr represented RMA's volunteer Treekeepers who measured 292 trees and additional empty tree spaces; our Nov 4 event announced that the data collection phase is done.
Restore Mass Ave launches Inventory with Alliance for Community Trees. L to R:  Lt. Col. Ioannis Argyriadis, Embassy of Greece Military Office; Deborah Shapley, President RMA; Marty Scherr, RMA Board member and Volunteer.
But we at Restore Mass Ave are amateurs, so each of our projects is advised by experts. Guiding the Inventory Project are Dr. Jessica Sanders, Director of Technical Services and Research at Casey Trees and Dr. Lara Roman of the US Forest Service.  
Visit our website for our press release and Tree Benefits poster. Visit our Volunteer page if you are interested in joining the Inventory's next phase, to help expand DC's urban forest.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Our 2013 Treekeeper Season - Looking Back

By Jon Gossens
A mild summer and great fall weather helped RMA have another great season of outdoor tree care. As organizer of volunteers, I enjoyed  arranging more than 20 Treekeeper meet-ups - work sessions - with new and returning volunteers.  At the British Embassy Open House in May we signed up a plethora of new people who want to learn about expanding Washington’s tree canopy. Many  joined our work helping at-risk trees on Embassy Row. 

During the summer, our volunteers cleared tree boxes, laid mulch, and arranged for water bags to be filled - by us and by nearby property owners. This is very important work during hot months when sidewalk city trees need help to stay hydrated.

A new city tree surrounded with grass which was robbing the tree of soil nutrients before RMA Treekeepers got their hands dirty clearing the whole box.
As the weather cooled and our group grew, we decided on another way we could help Embassy Row and other communities in Washington. Urged by our fearless leader Deborah Shapley, the Treekeepers embarked on a Tree Inventory project. With special help from Robert Thomason, tree aficionado, we measured trees in session after session; we have now inventoried almost 300 street trees along Embassy Row.   

Our detailed measurements will enable us and forest professionals to gauge the health and successful growth of these trees. Click here for our video on tree measurement! The inventory will help RMA set priorities for future tree work, future volunteering, and generally help us grow better trees.

As RMA’s Treekeeper Organizer, I thoroughly enjoyed working with such great volunteers through a very productive season. The weather is cooling and bringing the outdoor work to an end, but the Inventory and other projects will carry us through the winter as we prepare for 2014.

Thank you to everyone who came out this year! See you again soon!

-Jon Gossens, RMA Associate
2238 Decatur Pl NW

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Our Green Community Grows

July 2013

RMA welcomes to its green community three Embassy Row owners in the 2000 block of Mass Ave, who have taken over the care of young, at-risk street trees.  Our Treekeepers are helping these owners, such as by loaning green water bags. By actively caring for trees, these owners beautify their space. A healthy line of maturing trees will help this whole block, where thousands of people daily use the Georgetown U and MetroBus stops and popular Embassy Row hotel.

You may learn more about our new "green" friends below the photos.

Neighbors in the 2000 block of Mass Ave work together to nourish at-risk city street trees. Clockwise from upper left: (a) The garden planted by Konrad Adenauer Stiftung shows how shady gardens can thrive next to busy bus stops. (b) Lars Haensel,  Resident Represetative of KAS, Rob Nevitt, RMA Treekeeper, and  Zhanar Altieva of KAS with the one of the bags KAS refills weekly;  (c) William C. Paley Foundation and Kuwait-America Foundation; (d) in early June RMA Treekeepers Sarah Randolph and Katie Macdonald cleared the tree box and filled the bag to kick-start care which was taken over by the two foundations.


Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS) 2005 Massachusetts Avenue NW (20036) The foundation fosters a transatlantic network of contacts particularly offering young leaders the chance to interact with decision makers; the Washington, DC office manages KAS programs in the US and Canada.  


Kuwait-America Foundation  2021 Massachusetts Avenue NW (20036) was founded after the 1991 Gulf War to help children internationally. It also sponsors the National Campaign Against Violence to reduce youth violence in communities across the United States.

William C. Paley Foundation 2023 Massachusetts Avenue NW (20036)
The foundation, sponsored by William C. Paley (son of the late William S. Paley, president of CBS), offers counseling regarding addiction and other behaviors.

Thanks also to John Crotts for historic yard landscape and tree care.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Deep-watering prepares trees for summer

JUNE 2013 

Surprisingly, experts say spring is the time to prepare sidewalk trees for summer.  They advise watering them early and deep.

During DC's hot summers, city trees can bake two ways:

1) by the sun's radiation from above; and
2) by the sun's heat reflected up from the pavement, heating leaves and trunk from below.

Another problem: near the tree, the ground becomes hard and dry--a barricade against water flow. So when we're lucky enough to get rain, less rain of it reaches the important roots underground.

Enter deep-watering.

A professional water truck carries 1,000 gallons and a 100-foot hose. The hose has a "needle" that the operator pokes in the ground several times around the tree. He can turn on the high pressure water flow and change the pressure by turning the needle's handlebar, like changing speeds on a motorcycle.

Deep-watering can moisten soil  3 - 4 feet below the surface, near the big roots the tree needs to grow.

Our deep-watering project assists a tulip poplar we planted by the Embassy of Romania on Sheridan Circle.
Restore Mass Ave hired Arborcare of Rockville, Maryland to water several hundred trees along Embassy Row on June 1. (Trees to be deep-watered were marked with blue tape.) Most were sidewalk street trees; others were trees inside the sidewalk that we planted or otherwise keep an eye on. 

James Urban of Urban Tree Associates recommended deep-watering in spring as a good investment for our trees this summer. He said that though we've had much rain, the trees face hard times ahead.

Still,  EVERYONE near city trees should top-water them, 25 gallons per tree each week, all summer. And pull away grass and weeds from the tree base so hose water, rainwater and air can start their journey towards the tree's deep roots, as Nature intended.

Reminder: Only mulch LIGHTLY around trees -- experts recommend a 3-inch layer kept away from the tree base. DO NOT pile mulch against trees! "Mulch volcanoes" block air and water from reaching the deeper roots which must be nourished to grow a strong tree.

Thanks to donations, Restore Mass Ave could provide this special care. We would like to thank -- in advance -- embassies and owners who engage in follow-up care around city trees, with watering and weeding. We must work together to raise the odds that all the trees here grow big and shady.

Special thanks to RMA Board member Robert Tarasovich for managing the project.
Learn more about Jim Urban at and his Linked In page.
More about Arborcare is here. Volunteer with RMA here. Donate to RMA here.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Our visit to Casey Tree Farm nursery

May 2013
On a sunny Saturday morning, two carloads of "RMAers" tooled into the Virginia countryside through fields and budding woodlands to a lovely property near Berryville: Casey Tree Farm. Our aim was to learn how little trees are grown before they're hauled to the city for planting.

Farm manager Brian Mayell started us at the pretty white farmhouse - now a serious HQ for maps and computerized record keeping. The 730-acre property was donated by Betty Brown Casey to the Casey Trees foundation in 2008.  Much of the open land is still farmed. Six acres of Casey Trees' most advanced tree-growing is next to the farmhouse; more nursery acreage lies beyond.

Mayell showed us two experimental beds. At right he's pointing to young bare-root trees growing in gravel; in front of him bare-root trees are growing in wood chips. In the gravel technique, called Missouri Gravel Bed (MGB), the trees are irrigated and fertilized from above, so the roots spread freely. He said that when scooped from the gravel bed "they look like mops." Growing bare-root trees in wood chips could be an important new technique, as wood chips are easily available and are cheaper than gravel. 

Trees grown in these loose mediums would weigh far less when removed and transported for planting.  Most young trees are grown in soil and dug out by a machine - which cuts through a high percentage of their roots. And a balled and burlapped tree of 2.5" caliper, with soil root ball, weighs "hundreds of pounds," Mayell said, so transporting it to a city is energy- and labor-intensive. 

If trees can be grown and moved bare-root, more can be loaded and transported to their planting sites, saving energy and labor. (Bottom line: If the trees are cheaper, maybe cities could plant more.)

In another experiment, young trees are grown in fabric bags. In the bag the roots do not girdle; whereas young trees that are grown in containers suffer from twisted, encircled roots.*

We loved strolling among rows of trees growing the normal way in tidy soil strips on the hillside.  We could see the different shapes of different species down the rows. Mayell was a fountain of information, especially about the native species which Casey Trees specializes in planting. 

Most farms have a cat and Casey Tree Farm is no exception. Since it dwells in
fields of low-hanging branches, this cat can climb up a tree, turn and hop gracefully down.

We're grateful to RMA Board member Robert Tarasovich for arranging this outing and to Mayell for his expertise and patience with our questions.

So far Casey Trees has added 12,000 trees to Washington DC. The Foundation's expertise and classes are a huge asset to the city.
Restore Mass Ave is especially grateful that Casey Trees provided ~100 of the 133 trees Restore Mass Ave has added to lawns and yards, in seven  Community Plantings. For more see our Events page.

* More on Casey Tree Farm's innovative techniques here.