This once criticized Anchorage Road landscaping project has really paid off

For the first time in years, I haven’t received a single question about Christmas trees. How could that be? It’s hard to imagine that no one wants to know what I think is the best tree or that no one is worried about needle drop.

Is it just too early? No question here suits me, but I am nonetheless required to write a column on the Christmas tree. There is no getting around it.

Guess I could chronicle the Alaskan tree recycling program for waste prevention and recycling. It wouldn’t be very long because we all know the program – except that this year we will also be able to recycle the fairy lights, but not on the trees. This season, the program runs from December 28 to January 15. Look for the announcements in DNA, which is a cosponsor of this important program.

Instead, let me draw your attention to International Airport Road, from Jewel Lake Road to the domestic terminal at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport. Even those who live outside of Anchorage have taken this route. As I walked towards the airport recently, I thought of the now tall spruce tree lining the road. Some of you may remember the start of this landscaping effort.

Immediately there were complaints. The trees looked like lollipops lined up. People complained. The trees were too close to each other, people said. And everyone insisted that the trees were too small and would never get big enough to mask what were then lots that had trees on them!

What you don’t see are mountain ash trees on the middle strip. Hundreds were planted, one after another, along the causeway as the spruce came in. Alas, winter has arrived. Snow was piled up on the median and in narrow berms that trapped voles attracted by the soft bark of mountain ash. The only thing to eat were the trees, and the voles decimated them, girdling every trunk. By late spring, it was clear that all mountain ash was gone.

We now know that mountain ash attracts moose to the medians, causing them to cross roads and get hit. But at the time, Mayor Dan Sullivan, whose administration oversaw the landscaping project, took a lot of heat. Critics have focused on the appearance of the spruce and hit the ashes. Dead trees, hundreds! Public money wasted on what? Landscaping?! This was one of the first real efforts to beautify Anchorage, and the beautification of International Airport Road was certainly not a good start.

Looking back, what a blessing this project has been! What you see along this important road is a beautiful living wall, tall and thick. What you don’t see are most of the ugly, granular development needed to support an airport. And the success of the project has made landscaping required on all public projects throughout the municipality, which is a good thing – and I hope there are plans in place in case the bark beetle in the spruce would remove spruce.

Why, if you didn’t know where you were, you might think that a port authority or city government really planned and planted a nice entrance for Ted Stevens International. It’s time to recognize a job well done. What a gift from the past! Who knows, we might even be able to put Christmas lights on these trees one day.

Jeff’s Alaska Garden Calendar

Correction: Oops, the invasion of new birds is by starlings, not by blackbirds. Every night my father would fire a gun in the air to rid our trees of 10,000 or more poop birds. We don’t want blackbirds either, but starlings are the threat right now.

Alaska Botanical Garden: Lights: Visit the exhibit! Action: Renew your membership and give them as gifts while you’re at it. Not a member? Join now. www.alaskabg.org

Indoor pelargoniums: Ours are in full bloom under the lights. It’s time to let them rest a bit. Remove flowers and new buds. Grow cooler with less light. Resume the light treatment at the beginning of February.

Windows: Make sure your plants don’t get too cold near leaky windows.


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