The trimming of trees is an art unto itself

On the Trail



It’s a funny thing about trees: Left to shift in their natural state in wildland parks, they may grow exceedingly tall, wide and shaggy. Limbs may snap in the wind, leaving jagged stubs. Wildfires may scorch trunks.

In landscaped community parks, the hand of man is more often evident. Sometimes the hand is heavy, guilty of what we tree huggers might label “butchery.” The practice of “topping” trees is frowned upon in some enlightened communities, as is the habit of cutting back so severely that the tree resembles a tragic amputee.

Happily, there’s Russell Park in the Westlake Hills neighborhood off Hillcrest Drive in Thousand Oaks, where the hand is that of an artist with pruning shears.



I’d long admired one of the park’s olive trees. Before it could grow too tall, the olive was trained into a classic, elegant bonsai shape by a park maintenance worker.

During a recent visit to the park a pair of exquisitely pruned strawberry trees caught my eye.

Each was multi-trunked, bearing dense, dark, glossy green crowns. The trunks appeared to be as animated as Matisse’s figures in his painting titled “Dance.”

The Russell Park pair represent a tidy textbook example of how to honor a tree and earn any tree fancier’s admiration, reflecting a most thoughtful and judicious pruning. There’s no “slapdash cut and slash” visible here.

At Russell Park the shapely and diminutive strawberry trees (so-called for the texture and appearance of their colorful fruit) dwell among towering neighbors. The park is home to ash, deodar, pine, olive, sycamore and several species of mighty oaks. All of those trees have vaulted to rather epic, sky-brushing heights.

The strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo) is often seen as a singly planted tree on small lawns. This may be due to the fact that it is showy enough to hold its own without the need for any other attention-grabbing trees in the near vicinity.

Owners of strawberry trees may wish to view the Russell Park pair, located near the Westlake Hills Elementary School playground. Inspiration in how to shape the tree may be gleaned if they feel their tree needs some grooming.

The pair’s trunks are airy and lapped at by ample sunlight. The trunks’ bases resemble dinosaur or elephant toes, plump and ropy. Fragments of blue sky are framed by leaves bearing slightly saw-toothed margins.

Alas, the strawberry tree’s fruit is deemed “exceedingly bland,” but birds enjoy it. Flower clusters in dainty pendants of pink-blushed white form in fall; the fruit appears in winter. Round as a big marble, the rough-surfaced fruit turns from gold to orange to red. These adornments light up the trees’ crowns with a festive flair.

Don’t fret if you haven’t space to grow a strawberry tree—come enjoy the visual delight of the pair at Russell Park.

Glasser is a freelance writer. Reach her at