Talking Trees with Davey Tree

Arborists’ Work on Historical Properties

November 17, 2022 The Davey Tree Expert Company Season 2 Episode 44
Talking Trees with Davey Tree
Arborists’ Work on Historical Properties
Show Notes Transcript

Mike Bova, principal consultant and project developer for Davey Resource Group (DRG), Lou Meyer, business developer for Davey’s mid-Atlantic region, Makayla Minnes, utility vegetation management technician for DRG and Josh Piquette, branch manager of the Washington D.C./Maryland Commercial Landscape Services (CLS), talk about their favorite historical properties to work on and their Davey careers. 

In this episode we cover:  

  • Notable properties in the Washington D.C./Maryland area (1:05)  
  • The Armed Forces Retirement Home (2:30) 
  • Special care taken for historical trees (4:10)  
  • How it feels to work on historical properties (5:00)  
  • Makayla’s job as a UVM technician (7:45)  
  • The historic Austin properties that Makayla works on (9:00)  
  • Makayla’s favorite trees (10:44) 
  • Dealing with trees in wires (11:40) 
  • What Makayla likes about her job (12:36)  
  • How Makayla started with Davey (13:07)  
  • Fall weather in Austin (13:45) 
  • Hearst Castle – Significance of the property and the work Davey does there (15:00) 
  • What Mike looks for during a tree risk assessment (20:00)  
  • What being at Hearst Castle was like for Mike (22:58)  

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Doug Oster: Welcome to the Davey Tree Expert Company's podcast, Talking Trees. I'm your host, Doug Oster. Each week, our expert arborists share advice on seasonal tree care, how to make your trees thrive, arborists' favorite trees, and much, much more. Tune in every Thursday to learn more because here at the Talking Trees podcast, we know trees are the answer. Welcome to a very special episode of Talking Trees. I'm with Josh Paquette. He's a branch manager for the Davey Tree Expert Company in Washington DC, Maryland area. Lou Meyer, you might remember his name. I think he's been on the podcast more than anybody else. He's the regional business developer for Davey.

Today, we're kicking off a series of interviews about some of the historic and interesting places that Davey takes care of. How are we doing, guys?

Josh Paquette: Doing great. Happy to be here.

Lou Meyer: Doing wonderful. I'm glad to be back. Good to hear from you again, Doug.

Doug: Where are we going to start, Lou?

Lou: Let's start talking about the properties that we take care of in the area. Josh is with the Commercial Landscape Services Division, and so they do maintenance on some fascinating, high-profile properties here in the nation's capital. Besides the ones that they do, our residential division, the tree care division also takes care of trees for some fascinating historical properties as well. We'll start with Josh talking about some of the properties that he's on a regular basis.

Josh: Sure, appreciate that, Lou. As Lou said, we are blessed to be performing work for a lot of prestigious sites that we have here in the area in the DC and Maryland area. We do things from grounds maintenance, we do enhancements projects to large installs, hardscaping work, tons of elements within the landscape side of this world. We perform these services for, again, a lot of high-profile federal sites. Department of Justice, we do the National Archives. We actually picked that up here recently, Lou, it's this summer, about three months ago. We started the National Archives.

Both locations, they have a museum, obviously, is where they house the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence is in that museum in Washington, right there on Constitution Avenue. Then their other campus is in College Park, Maryland, and we do that as well.

Doug: Lou, how about for you, what is a historic property that you're thinking about talking about?

Lou: One of the really cool ones is the Armed Forces Retirement Home. It's also known as the Soldiers and Airmen Housing. It's a retirement community for a lot of our veterans, but originally it was the summer home for Lincoln. President Lincoln had a summer cottage. Back in the mid-1800s, DC, which is built in a swamp, pretty much, gets very humid in the summer. A lot of the folks had housing up in the hills surrounding the city that they would go to cool down. The Lincoln Cottage is obviously a historic building on the grounds of the Soldiers and Airmen's property that Lincoln would summer in.

There's a number of large trees on the campus. One of them is an Osage Orange, which right now, at this time of year, being early November, these are the ones that have the big green balls that fall down, the seed pods. We used to call them monkey brains when I was a kid. They go by many different regional names. This Osage Orange is enormous. It's, I would say, probably 3 1⁄2 to 4 feet in diameter. It's got a really interesting growth pattern where it's growing sideways over time. Legend has it that Lincoln wrote the Emancipation Proclamation while sitting under this tree in the shade of the summertime. Fascinating tree for that historical aspect.

Doug: There is a lot of pressure on taking care of a tree like that. With that kind of storied history, is there anything special that needs to be done because of its provenance?

Lou: Yes, I would love to say that we treat every tree with the same level of respect and love, but yes, we do treat the showcase trees a little more. We just keep an eye on it more throughout the year. Josh's team has the maintenance of that site. They're there weekly, and they're always taking a peek at the tree to make sure that everything looks great. As soon as there are signs of distress or changes, he lets the residential team know so that they can come in with plant healthcare initiatives or pruning needs to ensure the longevity of that tree.

Doug: Osage Orange is a pretty tough tree, right?

Lou: That's the good news. It's tough to mess with those.

Doug: When I was a kid, we used to throw those monkey brains at each other and they hurt.

Lou: Quite a bit.

Doug: Lou, talk a little bit about the feeling of working at these amazing places. You're used to being there, but for a lot of us, we might see that once or twice in a lifetime. Let's visit DC, but you guys are there all the time. Talk about taking care of all that important landscape.

Lou: Like I said, I'm from Ohio. I moved out here five years ago, and I still get starstruck by a lot of these sites. When we're driving around DC to meet with new clients, and we pass by the Department of Treasury, for instance, and you go, "That's not a real place. That's just something they talk about in NPR," and there's a building with people walking in and out of it. When we're on the Beltway on 495, and Air Force One flies over, or Marine One. We see all the time, the choppers flying over. It just feels surreal sometimes.

These sites, like Josh says, they bring a lot of pride to us. It's a real feather in our cap to be working for the federal government on a lot of these properties. Our crews really take it to heart. That's the neat thing, is when the crews start talking about how much they like working on these sites because of the feeling it gives them. These are the kinds of things where I'll call back home to my mom and say, "Hey, mom, guess what site we're on today?" I'm 40 years old, and I still get excited about that.

"Put this on the fridge, we're working at the archives." It's just a neat feeling. To be a part of an organization that has access to these and has the ability to service them in the way that they deserve is just special.

Doug: All right, guys. Thanks so much for sharing all those interesting stories. It must just be fascinating to work on properties like that. I'm looking forward to talking to some of the other people in Davey and seeing across the country what they're doing too. Thanks again. It was great to talk to both of you.

Josh: Definitely. Thank you for having us.

Lou: Always good to see you, Doug. Thanks so much.

Doug: Lou, I'll see you in January. I'll be in Baltimore for my trade show.

Lou: I registered last week. I'll be there.

Doug: All right. We'll finally get to meet up in person.

Lou: Yes, sir.

Doug: All right. Thanks, guys.

Josh: Definitely. Take care.

Lou: Thanks, Doug.

Doug: I'm joined by Michaela Minnes. She is a utility vegetation management technician for the Davey Resource Group in Austin, Texas. Today we're talking all about beautiful neighborhoods in Austin that you work in, right, Michaela?

Michaela Minnes: Yes, that's right.

Doug: First off, just tell me a little bit about that job. What does that mean?

Michaela: I create work plans for the tree trimmers that basically detail any vegetation that needs management around Austin energy facilities. Power lines, poles, streetlights, things like that. I spend most of my day outside inspecting different properties and different Austin energy facilities on those properties and planning what needs to be done to keep our electricity running.

Doug: I would think that would have to be an interesting job because everybody, when they see you out there looking at their trees, they're thinking like, "O-o, what is she going to do to my tree?"

Michaela: Oh, yes, absolutely. I have people coming up to me all the time. Even if it's not their property that I'm on, people seem to be interested in what I'm doing.

Doug: We're talking all about some of the cool places that Davey takes care of. You mentioned that you just loved working in these historic neighborhoods. Paint me a picture. I don't know anything about Austin, okay? Except that it's a cool music town. That's all I know. Tell me about these historic neighborhoods. Why is that something that's important for you?

Michaela: I actually just moved to Austin about eight months ago now. This job was really my intro to exploring the city of Austin. One of the first circuits that I worked on my own after my training was right in the heart of downtown Austin. There's this big historic district. It's called Castle Hill. That's because the Western side of Austin is really hilly. There's actually this old castle that was built in, I think the 1860s that's right up on top of a hill over on the West side of the downtown historic district. I was planning in that area and I was walking up a hill to this property that I had to inspect.

All of a sudden, I was at the top and I looked out through someone's big mansion patio part of their house and I could see the entire city from up top on that hill. The Capitol building and the rolling hills and the skyline and everything. It's really gorgeous with all the hills and there's really old huge acre mansions and historic hotels and there's these big beautiful old live oaks that I've never seen before. The really old ones are all curvy and they're just really beautiful. It's like nothing I've ever seen before.

Doug: That leads me to my next question. You see a lot of these amazing beautiful historic properties but certainly a lot of beautiful historic trees too. Talk about some of the species that you're learning about there in Austin.

Michaela: Like I mentioned, definitely my favorite species that's brand new to me since I moved here to Austin, are the live oaks. They're some of the oldest trees I've ever seen and the biggest and the most beautiful. I really love those. There's also this species of bush called purple sage and they have these pale greenish grayish leaves and these really beautiful purple flowers. Those are some of my favorites.

Doug: Tell me a little bit about decision-making and looking at a big live oak and seeing where it's in the wires and like, "Oh boy, I don't know. We're going to have to do this, we're going to have to do that." Again I think that as somebody who would own one of those trees, they certainly don't want it up in the wires. Just talk a little bit about that whole process.

Michaela: That happens to me multiple times daily where I come across a really big live oak that has branches and large limbs up in the wires. Most people are very, very against us touching their oaks at all but luckily in Austin, we have heritage tree and protected tree guidelines that we have to follow. There's a whole process of permitting that we have to go through if we're either wanting to remove a tree that's of a certain size and species or removing a certain percent of a canopy of a tree. Luckily, we do have a lot of leeway that we can offer people. There's avenues that we can go down where we can request reduced clearances for large heritage or protected trees like these old live oaks.

Doug: Tell me a little bit about what you get out of your job. Why do you like it?

Michaela: I love spending my entire day outside. Like I said, I've only been in Austin for eight months but I know the city better than any city I've ever lived in. I've gotten to explore it so thoroughly and not only that, I talk to so many people throughout the city. I feel like I really know the people here in the neighborhoods because I've just spoken to so many of them through the process of my work.

Doug: How did you get into this as a job?

Michaela: I actually just graduated about a year ago now and I got my degree in environmental studies. I knew I wanted to do something related to nature and I wanted to work outside. This just seemed like a good starting point for me to get involved with natural resource management and getting closer to some sort of position in conservation and helping the environment.

Doug: Where I'm over in the Northeast, we're enjoying these beautiful fall colors. Tell me about fall this time of the year in Austin.

Michaela: Actually, I grew up in Ohio and I went to school at the University of Vermont which is the capital of leaf peeping and colors changing in the fall. It's been a huge change for me to be here in October and the leaves aren't changing and it's not cold, it still feels like summertime. That's been a big change for me but summer is my favorite season. I've been enjoying my reprieve from the cold.

Doug: We're a little bit jealous of you for those temperatures down there but we're doing our leaf peeping up here. All right, Michaela, thank you so much for your time. Good stuff and enjoy your time in Austin.

Michaela: Thank you so much for having me.

Doug: Now we're headed over to the West Coast to California. We're talking with Michael Bova, he's principal consultant and project developer for the Davey Resource Group. We're talking about a pretty amazing place, I think everyone knows about it, the Hearst Castle. Michael, tell me first, you've known about this place for a long time before you worked on there as a Davey person, right?

Michael Bova: That's correct, yes. I've lived in the area for almost 30 years and I've had many occasions to visit the site, both as a touristy person and then one that has done some specific guidance and work on the property. Seen it from different angles for sure over the years.

Doug: Paint a picture for me. What is Hearst Castle then for people who don't know what it is?

Michael: Hearst Castle was for those that might remember the name, William Randolph Hearst pretty much developed the castle in the early 1900s. Originally, his father purchased I think it was 200,000 acres along the central coast there of California. William inherited that and bought more to where it was probably 300,000, 400,000 acres along that coast. Pristine, still primarily undeveloped property. What he did was down below in the actual beach area of San Simeon, there was a small airport and a big dock or pier that was built, and movie stars would come in and spend a week or more at the property.

That beach is still available and I've gone to that beach dozens of times over the course of my time living in this area. Eventually, his influence waned. The Hearst Corporation took it over and it's still a big landholder in the area. A lot of cattle and other developments that they do all the way up to the mid-coastal range within San Luis Obispo County. I don't remember the dates, but eventually, the state of California, the park system took over the property and has been managing it for years. There's public tours and they do a lot of nighttime tours, Renaissance times. They do a lot of unique things.

You can go there at night and do a period tour where everybody's dressed in the 30s and 40s. There's extreme amount of history there but the property and the coastline is still undeveloped and is probably going to remain that way for a long, long time.

Doug: How was it that you were able to go there as a tree expert?

Michael: We were reached out by the park system during COVID. The park was closed and they were doing a lot more infrastructure improvements within the property and there was a particular tree that they were concerned about. We were asked to look at this tree and do a risk assessment on it but the cool thing was we were able to be there at a time where nobody else was. Middle of the day, no tourists, just work going on and we were guided around and got to learn a lot more about the history. The type of plants that William Hearst planted there over the years.

Some of the landscape designs that were unique to that property and just for instance a lot of the tile work that you walk on is from Italy or had been imported over the years into that property. Very valuable infrastructure that the trees are planted around. One other note there, he was really big on not just cattle, but interested in raising other animals. You can see from Pacific Coast Highway that runs through the property, zebras out running around with horses.

He had experimented with giraffes and bison and different other critters to try to see about the value of them to raise them. Zebra's still roam wild there and it's neat to see. Then down at the beach part of San Simeon is famous for the elephant seals and so you'll see just hundreds of elephant seals lining the beach down near that property. Really neat overall. We help them guide some maintenance on this particular tree and we're still in touch and we hope to get back on the property at some point.

Doug: That's a pretty unique property, to say the least. Now, I know you can't talk about specifics on that tree, but in general, when you do go to a property, tell me a little bit about a risk assessment on a tree. What are, you looking for? What are you doing when you show up at a place like that? Is it any different for a unique property than my house?

Michael: Not necessarily because what you're looking for is what are the targets? If there's no target, then there's no risk. The tree will fall apart and land on the ground and not hit anything. Therefore, the risk is zero in that sense but this particular situation and many others, if the target value is such that it has a high frequency of use or has high-value targets like these marble structures or sculptures and tile work and things like that, that are not replaceable in any way, then the value is high.

You're looking to see the likelihood, the probability of something failing, and if it does fail, what's the likelihood of it impacting the target? Then what would those consequences be of that? You end up with a rating of sorts and then you can make mitigation decisions on do we remove the tree? Do we remove a branch? How do we minimize the risk? Then does that minimization get to the point where the tree owner is accepting that risk? In other words, okay, if I do these things, it still might fail, but the impact is going to be less.

You walk the tree owner through all these scenarios and then make some decisions on whether or not to keep the tree. Sometimes it's as simple as moving the target. You have a picnic table or a bench or a play structure or something like that. If you move the target, then you've eliminated the risk. Sometimes it's as simple as that. Sometimes it's as simple as excluding targets, putting up a fence around, and keeping people from being within that zone.

If it's a garage and you have your model A sitting inside there, you're not moving that. Some decisions might, unfortunately, end up removing a tree versus trying to protect it and reduce the risk. A lot goes into it, but ultimately we try to speak for the trees and give them as much chance as possible to live out their useful life before they're taken out.

Doug: Before I let you go, since that was closed at the time, that had to be really cool to be on-site there without all the other people, just other workers and such. Talk a little bit about that experience, if you don't mind.

Michael: It's interesting because I've been on other clients of mine that are high profile clients that have thousands of visitors every day. To be in any of those properties during that time, you had wildlife taking over. This particular tree had a fox den. It appeared to be a fox den, but the wildlife, for instance, wouldn't have been there normally. A lot of ducks. Things were there that you would not see normally but the quietness, the views from there are amazing.

You could see all the way down the coastline and it was to just listen and be there. It was a beautiful day in July so it just felt unique. You could almost imagine having lived there during that time where there wasn't all the people and there wasn't all the noise. That was unique and yes, it was somewhat unkept. In other words, they weren't necessarily taking care of certain planters and certain things because they had limited staff as well.

If you think about during the pandemic, those employees weren't necessarily working and taking care of things. They only took care of what they really needed to, to maintain the functionality of the property. You could see that there was going to be a lot of work needing to be done once before they opened up again. They were definitely working on the roads and things, but just that solitude and that feeling, you wanted to just sit there for hours if you want, and break out to lunch and take in the views and things.

Very unique to be on a property that is normally just hustling and bustling to be there when nobody was there. Our function was essential and we were definitely able to be there during that time of year.

Doug Oster: Michael, I'm going to leave it right there. I don't know any better way to finish it off than that. That certainly paints the picture of being at such a prestigious, unique property and helping people out with that tree. I want to thank you very much for your time and sharing those great stories.


Michael: Okay, thank you.

Doug Oster: I hope you enjoyed that episode as much as I did. Fun to hear everyone talk about those special places, that's for sure. Now tune in every Thursday to the Talking Trees podcast from the Davey Tree Expert Company. I'm your host, Doug Oster. Next week in honor of Thanksgiving, trees to be thankful for. Which trees provide us with many benefits. That'll be interesting. Do me a favor, subscribe to the podcast so you'll never miss an episode. As always, we like to remind you on the Talking Trees podcast. Trees are the answer.


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