Redwoods get reprieve from county

A water conservation plan that called for replacing redwood trees near the entrance of Descanso Gardens with drought-tolerant native species will be redrawn to leave the redwoods in place.

Los Angeles County Supervisors on Tuesday approved a resolution by Supervisor Michael Antonovich ordering the trees preserved.

Descanso Gardens Executive Director David Brown said officials with the county-owned facility will, however, continue with other landscaping measures intended to reduce water use there by hundreds of thousands — and eventually millions — of gallons each year.

Sustainability efforts already are underway to replace two acres of lawn beneath the redwoods at the garden's entrance with a native plant display intended to demonstrate climate-appropriate landscaping for visitors. Not native to Southern California and difficult to keep healthy even with intensive irrigation, the redwoods didn't fit those plans.

"Everybody wants to be green and sustainable, but that also means making some hard choices. This is plant geek headquarters here, but there's a growing realization of the need to work with nature instead of trying to augment or, in some cases, work against it," Brown said.

Water conservation has also become an increasing priority for Descanso staff since the Station fire destroyed irrigation pipelines at Hall Beckley Canyon. Those pipes supplied roughly half of the 32 million gallons of water needed annually to maintain the gardens.

Increased purchases from the Valley Water Company are expected to cost Descanso Gardens as much as $125,000 in 2011, according to Brown.

Turf removal and redwood replacement was expected to save approximately 600,000 gallons per year, but the impact of leaving the trees in place is not known.

Maintaining non-native elements in the drought-tolerant landscape may, however, provide a chance to study new approaches to incremental change.

"Like everybody, we're dealing with transition. Maybe we can be just as influential by showing people what a transitional environment looks like," Brown said.

La Cañada Flintridge City Councilman Dave Spence, who sits on a council subcommittee to explore options for capturing recycled water for irrigation purposes, said he was aware of Descanso's need to save water but fully supported saving the redwoods.

"Residents in the area would be really upset if we cut down those redwoods. It might take a little bit more water to save those trees, but in my opinion, it's worth it. We're working on getting recycled water, and that'll be a big help," Spence said.

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