For years the birds have used the branches of these two trees for perching and would sing to me from the top. When my sprinklers turned on, birds would come from all around to have a drink and a bath and then hop into the tree to preen and dry off. It was quite a show. The trees provided me with fall color which reminded me of home, which is why we planted them in the first place. I loved their lacy look and the distinctive white bark.
But since go they must, I have decided to turn this into an opportunity. I am making plans to get really serious about having a native California plant garden—one that is more drought tolerant and eventually easier to care for (I hope). I have started researching the idea after being inspired by my canyon walks, my friend Kathy's garden, this article in the LA Times, and the guys over at Breathing Treatment. I've already had a talk with Ann Barklow, the arborist at Garden Magic. It was she who suggested that the birch trees died of phytophthora (root or crown rot). This was puzzling to me because the trees have gotten the same amount of watering in the same way as they have for the last 38 years. Why now?
Anyway, now I must decide whether to have someone do the job for me or do it myself and whether to do it all at once or piecemeal. To help me make plans, I have bought three new books on gardening with natives: California Native Plants for the Garden by Carol Bornstein, et al., Designing California Native Gardens by Glenn Keator and Alrie Middlebrook, and the American Horticultural Society's Southwest, Smart Garden Regional Guide. This last is not devoted entirely to natives but does include some good information about a lot of them. I already own Bob Perry's Landscape Plants for Western Regions, a beautiful coffee-table-type book full of natives and drought tolerant plants for the Southwest, which Ann tells me is out of print.
Of course, I'll also get advice from friends and neighbors. I think it would be rather fun to do it myself and very educational. And I'm in no hurry.