Volunteers Nurture Fledgling Redwood Grove : Group's Tree-Planting Project in Park Could Pay Dividends for Years to Come

Times Staff Writer

Allan Silliphant was on his hands and knees in the dirt on a recent sunny afternoon, watching as $213 of his hard-earned money was put in the ground.

"I'm not a rich man," the Glendale businessman said. "You know, I do what I can, though $213 is a good bit of money."

But Silliphant figures it is money well spent. His investment is in redwood trees, which could pay dividends for hundreds or even thousands of years.

For the past two months Silliphant and a loosely knit group called the Urban Redwoods have been toiling in the soil near the banks of a tiny creek in Glendale's Verdugo Park.

With the city's blessing, the group of about 15 has planted more than 125 redwoods with the hope that one day Glendale will be the site of Southern California's largest grove of the state's official tree.

"San Francisco has its own Muir Woods, and California has the Sequoia National Forest," said Silliphant, who bought five redwoods. "I'd like to see a grove in Glendale."

So would city officials, who, after seeing the determination of the Urban Redwoods group, assigned a staff architect to design a master plan for the future grove in the northwest corner of the 35-acre park, just north of Glendale Community College on Canada Boulevard.

"We're very supportive of what they're doing, and we think a redwood grove in the city would be a great addition," Glendale Park Supt. Bob McFall said. "They're on their own when it comes to buying the trees, which hasn't seemed to discourage them. But after seeing the scope of their project, we decided the least we could do was a little architectural work for them."

The tree-planting project began in early October when Silliphant, 43, had become restless and wanted to get involved in something besides his job as owner of a small manufacturing firm in Glendale.

"I've always loved Verdugo Park, used to play there when I was a kid," the lifelong Glendale resident said. "I thought I'd like to spiff it up a little."

He had heard of the Tree People, who had just completed a campaign to get the people of Los Angeles to plant a million trees by the 1984 Summer Olympic Games.

Silliphant contacted Tree People officials, who reviewed his plan and gave him basic instructions on how to plant trees.

"It sounded like a great scheme to us," Tree People development director Katie Lipkis said. "We always love it when people plant trees, and this guy sounded unstoppable."

Silliphant set about purchasing redwoods from local nurseries, some of which donated several trees.

"Redwoods are the natural companion to the sycamores, which are the main tree in that area of the park, so they (redwoods) were the best choice," Silliphant said. "Plus, redwoods are the most outstanding species in the plant kingdom, and there aren't many of them in this part of the state."

Working early in the morning, late at night and on weekends, Silliphant planted the trees, which range from three-foot saplings to quickly maturing 15-footers.

Joggers and people walking their dogs began to take notice of him at work with his shovel and hand-held watering can.

"I'd be working away and people would become curious and ask what I was doing," Silliphant said. "I'd tell them and they would say, 'Gee that's wonderful. Can I help?' "

The name Urban Redwoods caught on, and soon more than a dozen people had purchased several trees and planted them along the Verdugo Park Creek.

One of them was Denny King, a 41-year-old free-lance television producer who happened to be taking a motorcycle ride one day in October with his girlfriend, Lynda Barrens.

'What a Great Thing to Do'

"We just decided to stop in the park and rest for a while," King said. "We looked around and here was this guy clearing stuff out of the creek. I asked him what he was up to, and I thought, 'Man, what a great thing to do.' "

A few days later, the pair spent $70 on three small redwoods with the intention of planting them in memory of Barrens' father.

"We got out our gardening tools and headed for Verdugo Park," King said. "My girlfriend's father had recently died, and she was feeling pretty blue. We thought it would be a nice thing to dedicate a tree for him."

Written on one of the tree's support stakes are the letters "DAD AR," the last two initials standing for the man's name--Anthony Ramirez. Ramirez was a retired Los Angeles police detective.

Once the tree was placed in the ground the couple became Urban Redwoods members because they had fulfilled the membership requirements, Silliphant said: "To participate you have to donate a redwood and plant it yourself. That's all it takes."

Stuart Sperber, president of Valley Crest Tree Co. in Sylmar, likes to call himself a "splinter" member of the Urban Redwoods. He donated eight large trees but left the planting up to the group.

"Silliphant got in touch with me about what he was doing, and I thought it was very exciting," Sperber said. "You can drive around Los Angeles and see redwoods once in a while, mainly in the Hollywood Hills, but not in the numbers that they've got out in Glendale."

Sperber said the only thing that could prevent the redwoods from growing is lack of water. Redwoods, he explained, require plenty of moisture to live, but if they get enough they are one of the fastest growing trees, maturing at a rate of three to four feet a year.

While Sperber donated his trees as a civic gesture, and King and Barrens planted theirs in memory of her father, others plant trees for different reasons.

Glendale resident George Simon planted a 14-footer that was a birthday present from his wife. On the stake is written "Happy birthday George, 12-11-84."

"The response has just been great," said Silliphant, who along with his colleagues has spent thousands of dollars on trees and countless hours on maintenance and landscaping. "We're modeling this after Big Sur, and if all goes well, it should develop into an actual redwood forest, not just a park with redwoods."

That enthusiasm, park Supt. McFall said, sparked the city's involvement in the project. The city's architectural division is drawing up a design plan, scheduled for completion this month, for the quarter-mile stretch of creek where the redwoods have been planted. It will define the grove's boundaries, specify how many trees should be planted and how far apart, and will include the layout for a hiking path.

"It should look very nice in a few years," McFall said. "I hope the enthusiasm doesn't die out."

Meanwhile, Urban Redwoods members have slowed their initial pace to allow the rainy season to nourish the trees already planted.

"We're up in the park four and five times a week watching over the trees and doing a little land scaping," Silliphant said. "We'll start planting again in early spring. We're starting to bring in boulders and ferns to give it a completely natural look. It's going to look great when we're done, and it will be here for hundreds of years."

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