Organizers didn't know exactly who would show up for Del Ray's first house-and-garden tour. They speculated that the one-day event could fall flat. And while they knew there would be at least a few curious ticket-seekers, they never anticipated that more than 500 visitors would pay as much as $20 each to tour some of the area's more interesting homes and landscapes.
The June 5 event raised about $8,500. From the start, the proceeds were earmarked to purchase and plant trees throughout Del Ray, an area northwest of Old Town that is fast becoming one of Alexandria's most dynamic communities. But planners never guessed they'd have so much money to work with.
"We didn't know what to expect," said Bill Hendrickson, a vice president of the Del Ray Citizens Association, which co-sponsored the event with Alexandria's 250th Anniversary Commission. "We were very pleased."
Hendrickson now finds himself in charge of forming a planting committee and creating a plan to survey neighbors and find a place for what could be as many as 100 trees.
Each tree costs about $175, and with the help of the city's cost-sharing program, which could chip in about half the purchase price and double the number of trees, there could be a whole lot of planting going on.
The idea, organizers say, is simple. They want to replace many of the trees that have died during the last two dry summers, plant new trees in wide-open stretches, such as East Monroe Avenue, and work with homeowners who want trees on their property. If all goes as planned, the first trees would be planted as early as this fall.
"I think in a city with relatively little open space overall, a lot of people recognize that the aesthetic appeal of streetscape is becoming more and more important," Hendrickson said. "We don't just want to plant trees, but also improve the entire aesthetic appeal. It will make the neighborhood an even more desireable place to live."
Hendrickson's committee will work in concert with city arborist John Noelle, who will make recommendations and approve the location of each tree planted on public property. The city also will work out the cost and the all-important watering arrangements, without which many of the trees would likely die.
"Frequently the city puts trees in, but they don't have the staff to water them and they dry out terribly," said Audrey Faden, a master gardener and landscaper who has coordinated several public gardening endeavors around the city and is working with Hendrickson on the tree planting project.
"Any new effort we do will definitely have to be tied in with citizens who can help maintain [the trees] and shoulder the burden," she said. "I can barely keep up with what I need to keep up with. The weather is tough."
Noelle agreed that trees have a much greater chance of survival when the community is involved in their placement, and take on the responsibility of caring for them--watering and doing other maintenance--as they take root and grow.
"We find the survival rate of the trees that are cost-shared are much greater because people have put in their funds and they seem to take care of them that much more," Noelle said. "I think any time the communities are directly involved in where trees go, they become more aware of what it takes for trees to grow. It's a very good situation for the city and the community."
Under the city's current cost-sharing program, Alexandria will pay about half the cost of planting a tree if a resident will prune and water the plant during the first few years.
"And we might set up a cost-sharing program of our own in the neighborhood," Hendrickson said. "We'll pay half the cost if the neighbor would pay half."
There are some restrictions on where trees can be planted. In Del Ray, for example, utility lines limit the kinds of trees that can be grown. In those situations, ornamentals are favored over shade trees that can grow to be very large. Many of the trees that were planted in Del Ray during the 1940s and 1950s are dying, and planners say they would like to replace many of them.
In areas where no trees currently exist, officials will require that they be planted at least 30 feet apart. If trees are planted in front of shops rather than homes, Noelle said, they try to work out maintenance package agreements where the cost of planting the tree includes money budgeted for three years of watering, pruning and fertilizing.
"We'll work with them," Noelle said. "It sounds great."
CAPTION: Bill Hendrickson, of the Del Ray Citizens Association, examines a recently planted tree for signs of stress.