Link: Paul Dorpat's review of Park-ing Day on Thackeray Place NE, September 18, 2009 on!

It's a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood Tree Planting Project

It started in 1991, with one little tree on the planting strip in front of my house in Wallingford. The first one was almost free--the City Arborist's office gave me both a coupon toward tree purchase and a required free permit. I brought home a Forest Pansy Redbud and it promptly died, probably from lack of water. Note: street trees need weekly water from spring forward to fall back, even if it rains. Its replacement committed suicide by girdling root. Tree number 3, a Kousa dogwood, didn' t like the hot conditions on the west side of the street so I moved it to another location, and a quirky Quercis Ilex--Holly Oak--is now a mature happy camper.

The next year I heard about a merchant-organized tree planting on The Ave in the University District. A quick look around the concrete-and-asphalt-scape of the Queen Anne street where I worked back then prompted me to come up with a plan of my own. A group of business owners and worker bee me arranged to plant 20 Spring Snow crabapple trees that fall, 1992. Many of them are still there on West McGraw Street near what is now The Fountainhead Gallery.

Raising money for the project gained momentum over a few weeks. I learned that removing concrete is easier than I thought, and that it is important to plant with "Right Tree–Right Place" in mind. I also learned that some people have had a Bad Tree Day in their past and not only dislike trees, they dislike having other people plant them, anywhere. Good to know. Not everyone agrees with me that trees beautify almost any setting. I remind myself of that every time I set out to see if people want trees, happy when I find like-minded folks.

Soon after that, a client of mine asked me for a favor: her grown son had always wanted his Queen Anne street to be tree lined, but was now too ill to accomplish that himself: would I consider helping? In a heartbeat. We didn' t quite fulfill her son' s dream--we got no further with a couple of no-tree guys than he had in the past--but we did plant quite a few trees, something that gave Daniel a great deal of joy before he died.

By then I was hooked. Someone at the City Arborist's office would call me if they had surplus trees at the close of the yearly planting season. Gradually my own street's planting strip was becoming a veritable tree museum of diverse species.

Then I met my neighbor Chris. When I mentioned that I planted trees, she gave me an application to the Department of Neighborhoods Tree Fund. Chris was a member of the Wallingford Community Council and remembered that a potential volunteer had signed up at one of their events for tree planting. She checked the database to find the vaguely recalled potential volunteer: it was me. I resolved to widen the circle.

Meanwhile, another neighbor and I began taking baby steps to effect traffic calming on our street. The Seattle Transportation (now SDOT) first-step suggestion was: Plant street trees; a tree-lined street tends to narrow the visual corridor. After planting dozens of trees we again contacted SeaTran and told them traffic slowed only on the actual tree planting day. Eventually, in collaboration with King County Metro, traffic calming came to Thackeray Place NE.

The first DON planting was in 1997. 21 trees on a rainy Saturday morning. I had taken Seattle Volunteer Tree Steward training that summer and set my sights on two projects: trees on planting strips in Wallingford for people who wanted them (and who agreed to care for them and introduce new residents to them should the planters relocate), and creating stewardship opportunities for children. It's a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood Tree Planting Project and Junior Tree Stewards were hatched that summer. Capes, watering cans, fun. They made great costumes for the next planting on Halloween, 1998.

By 1999 we graduated into the ambitious realm of Seattle City Light' s Urban Tree Replacement Program--UTRP--and 100 or so trees have been planted once or twice yearly ever since from I-5 to Aurora, 65th south to Lake Union. Those gorgeous Ginkgo trees that line the west side of 2nd Avenue NE above 40th are from that planting, and thrive due to good watering and in most cases, large tree pits (or completely gardened strips). The street trees adjacent to this street park are project trees; the Zelcovas are 17 years old from the first year.

This volunteer path of mine comes as a surprise to me--it's not a surprise that I am volunteering, but that this coastal California native has found a tree planting home in the Pacific Northwest. I asked a friend who has been collecting weird stuff for decades if being a bona fide collector was a conscious thought when he acquired his first kooky salt and pepper shaker set in the 70s. "Nope," he replied. "It just happened. I realized I had a collection one day when I set them on my windowsill to admire them. And I realized they tickled something in my heart and the rest is history."

It appears that planting trees tickles something in our hearts and it's contagious. Many thanks to the Block Captains for organizing plantings, and to all who have been watering and getting the word out about watering project trees this summer.

-Nancy Merrill is an artist, writer and founder of the It's a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood Tree Planting Project. The next planting will be in October, 2009.

Junior Tree Stewards (left to right, clockwise): Eleanor, Sylvia and Eli

arting around

WALLINGFORD GARDEN TOUR, Seattle, WA Poster Image, 2012
ART FROM SCRAP, Santa Barbara, CA One Night Stand, August 2012
OASIS ART GALLERY, Seattle, WA Beyond Limitations, August-October 2011
ART FROM SCRAP, Santa Barbara, CA One Night Stand, August 2011
OASIS ART GALLERY, Seattle, WA Undertones, August-October 2010
RE Store 8th Annual Recycled Art, 2009
HIROKI, Seattle, WA
Inside Passage, February 2009
One More Time, October 2008
Mixed Match, August 2008
HIROKI, Seattle, WA
She Is Anyway, June 2008
Infinite Regress, February 2007
Poster Image, 2005
Pentimento, 2004
Exposed Attachments, 2000

I exhibit as well as post images on my web site to look among them for through lines, patterns, influences. And to respond to the question, "What kind of art do you make exactly?" Looks to me to be: Life, Love, and Death in the Natural World in the Company of Friends -- Real and Imaginary -- and Making Something out of Nothing over and over and over.

Bachelor of Arts, Major: Art, 1984 -- College of Creative Studies, University of California at Santa Barbara

Architecture and Graphic Arts Studies, 1979-1981 -- Golden West College, Huntington Beach, California

Wilson High School Graduate, 1969 -- Long Beach, California

. . . babysitter, ice cream scooper, waitress, waitress, waitress, delicatessen worker, wedding cake baker, live-in children's caretaker, parent, indoor plant caretaker, drafter, graphic artist, GATE Program teacher and Artist-in-the-Schools (elementary level), nonprofit art gallery worker, fine craft gallery worker, art exhibitor, arts parade workshop worker/director/administrator, art archive director, gardener, garden designer, writer, art glass studio phone answerer, art foundry and art gallery visionary worker bee, picture framer and picture framing designer, quilt maker, Children's Museum Artist-in-Residence, tree planter, art reviewer, art appreciation cheerleader and park advocate, music camp children's program facilitator, project manager -- various, children's book writer, food grower, working artist . . .

Signal Hill Tank fire, 1958
Crayon on construction paper

Coffee Grinder, 1960

15 October, 1990 (read on the air in this slightly edited version)

To: The Car Guys at CarTalk Plaza, WBUR

"Hello, you're back and so are we . . . this is NPR's CarTalk with Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers."

"NPR has asked me to read . . . they don't usually do commercials, but they asked me to do this one:"

Is your car plagued by high cholesterol? Show your car you care by converting that American tank you're driving into a sporty little Italian job today, simply by adding a litre of PENNZOLIO: the vegetarian, politically correct lubricant. PENNZOLIO guarantees your car a long, clog-free life.

Show your support for OUR BOYS by leaving crude oil where it belongs -- in the ground. Other drivers will recognize your commitment to world peace by the exhaust you make, and recent research indicates that garlic is actually beneficial to the ozone layer.

"Yes, we've known that for years actually."

Help Italy get involved in the world crisis, and take the heat of the good old U. S. of A. PENNZOLIO is attractively packaged in recyclable glass bottles for only five dollars a half litre, also available in extra extra virgin thirty-weight for new and foreign cars, cold pressed, but ready to warm and soothe your car's moving parts And yours too!

"Where does one send the money . . . if?

. . . Available in the produce section of your grocery store. Ask for it by name and don't accept substitutess: PENNZOLIO: the healthy alternative for your automotive needs.

"According to Nancy Merrill of Seattle, Washington at least."

"Is she selling this stuff?"

"Hey, great idea!"

"I sent the twenty bucks!"

"Well look, it's time for the new Puzzler . . . "

I Gave at the Park

Published Letter:

Dear Editor (Seattle Times):

What the heck is going on with Wallingford Playfield? As a Friend of Wallingford Playfield, my volunteer work and play there go back eight years at least, and the same goes for our very devoted core group of planners, weeders, play equipment assemblers, gardeners and our families. For example, at my house the price of admission for unexpected overnight 20-something guests has been participation in any number of "weeding parties." Volunteers with younger children have watched their participating kids move from the wading pool to doing homework on thepicnic tables, and many birthdays have been celebratedthere as well. Hamilton students, Garfield-at-Lincoln and many other groups share this space successfully in the light-use manner for which it is intended.

Because FOWP has worked successfully with Seattle Parks and Recreation to define this space for light recreational use by people of all ages, children enjoy the multi-faceted play structure, the largest one in Seattle; seniors from neighboring dwellings and University House regularly utilize the circular walking path; and the Sunken Garden area is a maturing haven for birds including hummingbirds, bees and beauty.

We actually accomplished something in Seattle! Or had the illusion that we did for a time . . . It took lots of negotiating and lots of work and several thousand e-mails and hundreds of meetings; now this jewel is used by people of all ages on a daily basis, year-round. We believed what we were told at the time, that Hamilton would eventually inhabit the old Lincoln school site and the Hamilton site would keep its current footprint.

This volunteer is very fatigued by this version of "Seattle Process" and now extremely wary of bureaucratic promises. The volunteers I have brought to the playfield from Alaska, Japan and New Zealand will be disappointed as well. This city has a way of running through volunteers as if there is an unending supply. Situations like this teach people to charge for their time.

Nancy Merrill

A tree goes in Ballard

Full story:

By Nancy Merrill
Special to The Times

I appreciate community activist Randi Hansen for her quiet protest in Ballard. She is quoted in The Times as saying: "I have a religious belief that we are responsible for what happens to the Earth." ("Activist plants herself under Ballard tree," Times, Local News, Oct. 9.) Very moving.

While that 20-foot-tall tree goes the way of so many other large trees in our region ("Ballard tree taken down this morning while activist sleeping," Local News, Oct. 12), Hansen's action brings increased awareness to the plight of Seattle's urban forest. Thank you, Randi.

I suspect that the foliage on the four new trees Noland Homes, the property developer, intends to plant (replanting is a matter of city code) will not equal that of this decades-old evergreen soon, if ever.

One way to make up the difference would be to plant Right Tree/Right Place trees (with a Seattle Department of Transportation permit) on the treeless planting strip areas of that block if residents would welcome them. What exists now are some established planting-strip trees, newly planted trees and several blank spaces.

And perhaps a fruit tree in every backyard?

There is an opportunity for Noland Homes to go the distance here, and set a meaningful example for future projects as our communities evolve. Noland Homes can get assistance with this community building/healing idea by contacting Nolan Rundquist, the city of Seattle's arborist.

I have volunteers in Wallingford ready to help with planning and planting. We'll call it Randi Hansen Day, and can teach other blocks to do the same while we're at it.

Tree Cheers!

Nancy Merrill of the It's a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood tree planting project, is an SDOT tree steward who lives in Seattle. Contact the Wallingford neighborhood office at 632-3165.