Ancient Olive Trees Take Root in the courtyard of the new Green Music Center
Ten enormous 118-year-old olive trees, each a specimen of nature’s own architecture, grace the Green Music Center’s Trione Courtyard leading to Weill Concert Hall. With their gnarled and twisted trunks and their silver-green leaves, these ancient symbols of peace and continuity are another “wow” factor you’ll encounter at Green Music Center (GMC). They are gorgeous in daylight but, at night, lit to perfection, they take on a mystical quality. Since the courtyard will be “the site” for pre-concert gathering and intermission chit-chat and refreshments, these regal trees will likely become the number one topic of discussion, reminding us all that you don’t have to go far in Sonoma County to be awed by nature. For the low-down on how these trees got to GMC, how much they cost and whether they would work in your yard, read on and watch the video.
The trees in Trione Courtyard are old growth Sevillano olive trees from Heritage Olive Trees, owned by Troy Heathcote who is based in Napa but maintains a 42-acre olive grove on his family’s property in Corning, near Red Bluff. The 16-foot-tall trees were dug up and transported on a flat bed truck from Corning to the GMC and were planted in February of this year. Six months later, they have canopied out and settled well into their new environment, which was especially engineered to support their long-term growth. Heathcote also supplied the 8 smaller 95-year-old olive trees planted at the entry of Green Music Center, a later landscaping addition, which you will encounter before you reach the older trees.
It is mainly age that determines the price of heritage olive trees—the older the tree, generally the more sculptural the trunk. Heathcote’s 118 year-old Sevillano trees are $4,200 each, not including transport and installation. He has built a successful business that allows people to purchase a piece of living history they don’t have to wait 100 years to enjoy. “These trees are really neat,” explained Heathcote. “They were ‘multis’ —had multiple branches coming off their trunk—when they were young, like 15 years old, but over many years, those grew together and that fusion is what gives their twisted, sculptural appeal. And when you have a tree that isn’t desireable—the trunk mght have a check in it, which happens—you can use those for furniture and when you cut into them, you see these amazing patterns the patterns where the limbs actually fused…it’s very very cool.”
Sevillano olive trees produce one of the largest olives around, a green flavorful “martini” olive, also suitable for stuffing. They also produce very flavorful olive oil, but there’s not much oil content in the olives, so they don’t produce a lot of oil, making them undesirable for commercial olive oil production. (Sevillano olives yield 15 to 17 gallons of oil per ton versus almost 40 gallons per ton
yielded by Mission, Manzanillo, and Tuscan varieties.) The trees are well suited to California, where they can grow up to 40 feet in height. Because of their unique root system, explained Heathcote, even the oldest of olive trees can be successfully transplanted. They require full irrigation for the first year, but can survive intense heat and extended dry periods afterwards. To maintain a full green canopy (instead of a green tip with die-off below) and to discourage woodiness, they also need to be trimmed regularly so that sun and air can circulate through their branches.
“It was a lot of red tape, which is pretty normal for big institutions that have money coming from different sources, ” added Heathcote, “but they got some fine trees and I”m happy to see that they’ve now staffed up and are able to give these trees, all their new trees, the care they need.”
Heritage olive trees at the Green Music Center: Weill Enabled, Well Planned
Larry Reed, of Petaluma, principal architect for SWA, the prestigious Sausalito landscape architecture firm that excels in urban design, oversaw the placement of the trees. He worked along with Heathcote and Christopher Dinno, Sonoma State University’s Director for Facilities Management, Capital Planning, Design and Construction. Reed and his firm worked on the Academy of Sciences building designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano and realized its signature green roof of undulating mounds of plants. Reed is on the Green Music Center’s project design team. Reed is on the Green Music Center’s project design team which includes a very elite concentration
of talent—William Rawn Associates (lead architect Seiji Ozawa Hall at Tanglewood), AC Martin (the architect of record), BAR Architects (the San Francisco firm responsible for the remainder of the project), Auerbach + Associates, Theatre consultants, San Francisco, and Kirkegaard Associates, Chicago, for acoustics. He told me in an interview in May that SWA first got involved in the Green Music Center three years ago when they were hired to solicit funds for Sonoma State to finish the project.
“This was a huge project,” said Reed, “and, 15 years into it, we tried to put some parameters on what was needed for the outdoor venues and put together a master plan…When the Weills stepped up with the money to complete the building, they wanted the olive trees, the design team was supportive, and we all flew up to Corning in a private jet and selected the trees with Troy.”
“The courtyard wasn’t really in our scope of work but we helped plant them, said Reed. ”We specialize in pedestrian experience—sculpting the land, grading it, directing circulation, designing pavements, walls, landscape elements. We’re also all about projects that honor the local ecology and culture. The goal was to naturally direct people into the courtyard and concert hall lobby. The trees are a bridge somewhere between art and landscape. They are large enough to provide intimacy vis-à-vis the scale of the huge concert hall. They speak to the courtyard’s potential for pre-functions. They also provide a bit of an acoustical barrier to the South lawn.”
Reed added that the trees could conceivably double in height. “Generally, they are pruned and kept somewhat low to encourage fruit development but at GMC, it’s all aesthetic.”
The Planting Process:
- Two approximately 10’ wide x 4 foot’ deep trenches were dug across the entire length of the courtyard, establishing two rows, where the trees would be planted. Trenches were required so that drain lines could be installed that ran the entire length of the courtyard to external drainage.
- The bottoms of trenches were filled with roughly 1 foot of a specially engineered drainage rock into which drain pipes were embedded.
- The trees were then positioned in the trench by a large crane, operated by Precision Cranes.
- The area around the trees was filled with Structural Soil, an innovative new growing media developed by Cornell University’s Urban Horticulture Institute, designed to be used under pavement in urban environments. This new medium is stable when compacted but is root penetrable and supportive of tree growth.
- The remaining open areas in the trenches were back-filled with Structural Soil.
- Irrigation lines were put in, with a ring of irrigation around each tree.
- The courtyard was paved.
A “Green Martini” ?
There’s talk that lovely olives from these historic trees will be harvested and put to use in some gourmet application, possibly by Prelude Restaurant. Stay tuned. ARThound is in favor of a cocktail…. ”Give me a Don Green!—martini, that is.
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