The Great Oak Tree Mystery at the Recreation Center Is Solved

Founder’s Oak Island on Haverford, was where Pacific Palisades was founded.

Circling the News published an April 28 story (“Eight Baby Oaks Will Fight for Survival on the Island at Palisades Recreation Center”) that speculated about the mysterious gardener(s) who planted the baby oak seedlings on the circular parcel in front of the gym.

David Card, president of the Pacific Palisades Community Council and a member of the Potrero Canyon Park advisory committee since its inception, visited the site and wrote to CTN, “I loved seeing the eight thumb-tall seedling oaks in the PP Rec Center turning circle. I don’t know who did it, but it’s a wonderful idea. In fact, it’s clairvoyant.”

“The Potrero Canyon Park landscape plans specify new irrigation for the circle and the planting of five 36-inch-boxes of Quercus agrifolia/Coast Live Oak, which is what is in the Founders Oak median on Haverford,” Card said. “We’ll have to figure out a way to save the tiny oaks when the parking and irrigation are installed, and the big box trees get planted.”

Maybe Card was clairvoyant because the new baby oaks are from the Founders Oak island, the founding site of Pacific Palisades in 1922.

Monica Christie wrote CTN on April 29 that she had the answer:

“My daughter Natalia Johnson, a ninth grader, has been planting and watering seedlings all over the Palisades,” said Christie, who explained that the seedlings were growing curbside in the asphalt on Haverford. “The roots were doomed, trapped by the asphalt.”

Christie continued, “They are special seedlings, linked to the history of the Palisades. The Rec Center island has been tree-less for too long. What a perfect place for them.”

She added that there were too many seedlings for the island, so some have been adopted by neighbors. “Our neighbor Susanne scooped the rest up and set out a table for their adoption.” Many residents saw the table at Sunset and Swarthmore and wondered where the seedlings had come from. Case closed!

Natalia, who attends Harvard-Westlake, loves the outdoors and “we do guerrilla-gardening projects together,” Christie said. “Some work, some don’t. For instance, we spread 1,000 California poppy seeds on the Via bluffs. We only got one sprout, which we named Nemo.” (And Nemo is due to bloom this week.)

“I think gardening teaches so many life lessons–about investment, about patience, about loss…problem-solving, rewards, and when to invest and when to give up. When to make hard decisions. About the seasons and the cycle of life,” Christie said. “The most important thing I’ve learned is that you need to provide the right kind of environment for the particular individual you are working with; different individuals need different conditions to thrive. It’s all the same with people.”

Christie and Natalia visit the Recreation Center every few days to water the “babies.” There are only seven seedlings now, because one was mowed over. “Two might have to be replaced because we put them in the wrong spot,” Christie said. “The other five are doing well.”

Christie, husband Harry, Natalia and her sister Sophie have lived in Pacific Palisades since 2003.

David Card was asked about the baby oaks. “Any survivors will likely have to be potted and/or transplanted for the construction of the new parking spaces, irrigation and the five oaks in 36” boxes,” he said. “We can figure out what to do later before that happens. This was still a great idea.”

These were the baby oaks that were growing  in the curb that needed to be transplanted.

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6 Responses to The Great Oak Tree Mystery at the Recreation Center Is Solved

  1. Bruce Schwartz says:

    Inspiring!!! Thank you for your efforts !

  2. Anthony Marguleas says:

    Love this story about Natalia. She is amazing!

  3. Marge Gold says:

    Great story!! I wondered about those seedlings by Starbucks. Now I know. I just drove by the ones planted in the circle by the Rec. Center.

  4. BC says:

    Wonderful! It seems we should be glad that the City of L.A. doesn’t sweep the streets!

  5. Nancy Brennan says:

    LAPL is looking for folk’s accounts of what did you do in Covid? Here’s
    This is a staff link, but it explains everything( in about an hour).
    I think you would be a fantastic addition to the collection AND can explain it to the rest of our Palisades much better than I could!

  6. Sue says:


    Thanks for the info–I’ll do a little write up so that people can participate in this interesting project if they want.


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