40 Years Plus Half a Million Trees Equals…
The Greening of The Irvine Ranch
On The Irvine Ranch, one statistic says it all: half a million.
That’s the estimate–and it’s a conservative one–of the number of trees that have been planted on The Irvine Ranch since master planning began more than four decades ago.
The number highlights an often taken-for-granted fact: Landscaping is a founding principle of master planning on The Irvine Ranch. It is as central to The Ranch’s appeal as the variety of homes, excellent schools, plentiful jobs and preserved open spaces that make The Ranch such a desirable place to live and work.
Indeed, beautiful, bountiful landscaping helps set Irvine Ranch communities apart and is intrinsic to their long-term desirability. It’s everywhere, in every form imaginable: lush tree-lined streets, distinctive village entries, neighborhood and community parks, meandering trails, expansive meadows, forested hillsides, groves of native oaks and sycamores. Every community on The Ranch is graced by a variety of evergreen and deciduous trees complemented by a wide array of shrubs, hedges, groundcovers and flowers.
Landscaping is so abundant, it’s easy to forget that the hundreds of thousands of trees, plants and flowers that enrich Oak Creek, Woodbridge, Northpark, Newport Coast®, Tustin Ranch and other communities have been invaluable planning tools since The Irvine Company created the original Master Plan for The Ranch in 1960.
Among myriad other benefits, landscaping:
- Softens the built environment, transforming streets, retail centers, commercial districts and entire neighborhoods into inviting, scenic settings;
- Complements and sometimes takes its cue from the existing natural terrain, including oaks, sycamores and coastal sage scrub;
- Creates distinct identities for neighborhoods and villages;
- Establishes definite (and attractive) edges for communities, further underscoring their unique identities;
- Forges seamless connections from community to community.
Landscape architecture’s uses and benefits extend far beyond simply enhancing a community’s visual appeal.
It helps create identity and structure within each community and on The Irvine Ranch® as a whole. Permanently preserved open space and other existing land features form the backbone around which many communities are planned. The land upon which the village of Northpark emerged, for example, features eucalyptus trees planted in linear rows by the Irvine Company decades ago as sentinels against Santa Ana winds that roared down from the mountains onto the former agricultural land.
By the time planning for Northpark began in earnest in the 1990s, the eucalyptus trees were full grown, creating towering green rows visible for miles. Major design aspects of the village-from the layout of streets to the locations of homes, parks, schools and shopping centers-were planned around the windrows, preserving an important chapter of the land’s history while imprinting an immediate identity on Northpark that enhances the village’s charm. Landscape architecture also is used to define edges of individual neighborhoods and entire villages.
Landscape architecture also is used to define edges of individual neighborhoods and entire villages. Native plants such as coastal sage scrub, for example, were used to create a graceful, seamless transition between new neighborhoods at Newport Coast® and adjacent preserved open space. The landscaped berm that surrounds the village of Woodbridge, meanwhile, physically and visually separates it from adjacent villages.
More Mature Trees Used to Help New Communities Blend In
To help new communities on The Irvine Ranch blend seamlessly into the fabric of their surroundings, the Irvine Company uses more mature trees when possible as part of the landscape architecture plan. For example, Crystal Cove® is only several years old but its mature landscaping of coral, palm and pine trees makes it seem as if it has long been part of The Ranch.
Landscaping Helps Create Order and Structure
Another benefit of using landscape architecture to create order and structure is that it makes it easier for residents and visitors alike to find their way around. This is achieved in part by giving each community its own unique landscape design and plant palette. The entrance to Shady Canyon, for example, features an informal California pepper landscape, while the entrances to Crystal Cove are distinguished by a regimented display of coral trees. The streets of Woodbridge are lined with a heavy pine backdrop, with groves of sycamores surrounding the area near the lake. The streets of Northpark, meanwhile, are lined with a more formal California pepper planting.
Landscaping Creates a Sense of Unity
On The Irvine Ranch, landscape architecture also is used to forge seamless connections from community to community. The Irvine Company views the landform, landscaping and architecture as one environmental continuum, and that is reflected in the physical sense of unity that landscaping creates across The Ranch.
A key connection strategy is the use of landscape architecture along the corridors surrounding villages. Tall evergreen trees and shrubs provide practical functions evergreen screening of adjacent land uses, in turn providing a sense of unity to the streets. A good example of this approach can be seen by traveling along Culver Drive from Newport Beach to Portola Parkway. Along the way, individual communities or shopping districts build on the continuity by providing more diversity of plant material. Because the climate of The Ranch is similar to the Mediterranean climate, similar plants are chosen throughout, which further underscores the sense of continuity. This also can be seen on the east-to-west Barranca Parkway corridor.
Landscaped pedestrian paths and trails connect homes to parks, schools, stores, work, open space and other communities. Working with the city of Irvine and residents, the Irvine Company also is helping to plan landscaped pedestrian corridors, such as the Jeffrey Open Space Trail, to connect parks, Irvine’s Open Space Preserve, and areas within the 50,000 acres of open space on The Irvine Ranch.
Natural Beauty Throughout the Year
“Landscape creates a distinct sense of place and identity,” says Rob Elliott. Many streets, for example, are landscaped with evergreen trees-such as eucalyptus, pines, California peppers, oaks and Tristania-to provide year-round natural beauty rarely found in other communities.
Each village’s plant palette and landscape design reflect the unique features of the land character of the village. Northpark, for example, has classic California architectural design, so it was landscaped with native California plants and trees, particularly California peppers. Building upon the nearby oak trees along Sand Canyon and those next to the San Diego Creek, the village of Oak Creek® is accented with oaks. Quail Hill® is notable for its integration of distinctive landforms with strong landscape gestures of native and non-native plants, including eucalyptus trees, oaks and sycamores interwoven throughout the village.
“Each community on The Irvine Ranch is distinctive,” says Elliott, “not just one component of a monolithic garden of tree and plant species you see everywhere else.”
By integrating distinctive, context-driven planning approaches with deliberately applied landscape architecture into each community’s master plan, the Irvine Company seeks to create memorable and diverse community designs.
Oak Woodland: Protecting a Beautiful and Important Habitat
In an idyllic spot on The Irvine Ranch called Round Canyon, oak trees grow so close together they form what’s called a “closed canopy.” Gnarled branches from individual trees-many of them hundreds of years old-intertwine, promoting a healthy undergrowth of vines and shrubs. This undergrowth in turn creates ideal living conditions for a wide array of birds, reptiles, amphibians and insects.
Round Canyon isn’t the only place on The Ranch where such high-quality oak woodland thrives. Indeed, The Irvine Ranch contains some of Southern California’s best oak woodland habitat, considered highly valuable from an ecological standpoint because of the many different plants and animal species it supports. Approximately 80 percent of all oak woodland habitat-comprising thousands of trees of all ages and sizes-has been permanently protected on The Ranch.
For many years, the Irvine Company has understood the importance of preserving The Ranch’s oak woodland. Much of it is in the northern portion of The Ranch, on lands donated by the company as part of an innovative program called the Natural Community Conservation Plan (NCCP). The NCCP was created in 1991 by the state to reconcile the need for new community growth with the importance of preserving, protecting and managing entire natural communities. The company donated 21,000 of the 37,000 acres identified for permanent protection under the NCCP.
In determining oak woodland preservation areas, The Nature Conservancy and other NCCP members studied the concentration and quality of trees in a given area. They looked as well for tell-tale signs of healthy woodland habitat, such as vibrant plant undergrowth and the presence of animals typically found there, including reptiles and amphibians and birds like the western screech owl and acorn woodpecker, among others.
Taking a Cue From Nature
Not all oak trees on The Irvine Ranch grow within scientifically designated oak woodland habitat. Many individual oaks–including trees in and near future residential communities in East Orange and Mountain Park near Anaheim–dot the landscape, especially in the northern part of The Ranch.
As often as possible, the Irvine Company incorporates native trees into new communities’ landscaping themes to complement the existing natural environment. Native trees sometimes provide the inspiration for the broader community landscape theme. In East Orange and Mountain Park, for example, plans call for using native trees-notably oaks and sycamores-extensively in and near residential villages.
Community plans for East Orange and Mountain Park preserve the majority of their natural oak woodland. Any loss of trees will be more than compensated for through the Irvine Company’s commitment to replacing trees on a 20-to-1 ratio.
“We’re going to take tremendous time and care in transplanting as many healthy oak trees as we can in both of the communities,” says Roger McErlane, the Irvine Company’s senior vice president for Urban Planning and Design. “We plan to ensure a good, environmentally healthy range of ages and sites as we transplant existing trees and plant new ones. The result will be a healthier oak forestation than what currently exists.”