A root cause: La Jolla women find adopters for trees they cared for along Fay Avenue

Judy Swain, Laura Shawver and Julie Swain (along with Tracy Macuga, not pictured), worked to clear weeds on Fay Avenue.
From left, Judy Swain, Laura Shawver and Julie Swain (along with Tracy Macuga, not pictured), worked to clear weeds on Fay Avenue.

Eager to beautify La Jolla, a group of residents banded together to help a row of neglected trees along Fay Avenue and initiate their own adopt-a-tree program for others to share in the project.

Tracy Macuga, Laura Shawver, Judy Swain and twin sister Julie Swain worked for more than a month to rid eight trees along Fay Avenue between West Muirlands Drive and Nautilus Street of weeds and discarded trash.

The idea started with Julie Swain, who said, “We walk our dogs every morning; we saw ... that those trees and tree wells were horrible right across from the [Coggan] swimming pool.”

“It impinges on the sidewalk,” she said. “People with baby carriages would be obstructed, my dogs would get things in their eyes. The number of layers of trash we found … it was horrible.”

“Clearly nobody else is taking care of it,” Judy Swain said. “It’s something that needs to be done.”

The four women began working three times a week in July, whenever their professional schedules would allow. Macuga is a head public defender, Shawver a biotech chief executive, Judy Swain a cardiologist and Julie Swain a cardiac surgeon.

They cleared overgrowth, pulled weeds and collected garbage using their own clippers, chain saws, rakes and shovels.

“We took probably 30 barrels of cuttings out of there,” Julie said. They used Judy’s pickup truck to haul the materials to the city bins at their homes.

Then they filled the truck bed with mulch and took it back to Fay and “filled up the tree wells with that and then did a couple of waterings with a couple hundred gallons” trucked over in trash barrels, Julie said.

“All four of us like doing things outside,” she said.

“This is fun that we do on the side,” Shawver said. “Judy and Julie regularly ask us to help, not just with the trees” but also with similar projects such as painting over graffiti or weed-whacking on Nautilus Street.

“It’s our community,” Shawver said. “We’re just trying to help take care of it, in spite of the fact we work full time, too.”

Neighbors began to notice the women’s project, often stopping to ask about it. One passerby asked to photograph Shawver and sent it to the La Jolla Light for the paper’s Polishing the Jewel feature.

“People would pass by and say ‘Thanks for doing this,’” Judy said. “They see older ladies with chain saws, they ask!”

Judy Swain placed signs on Fay Avenue trees she helped care for, asking for adopters to water them.

Attracting so much interest led to Judy’s idea to start an adopt-a-tree program. “I thought it would be an ideal, whimsical way for people to take some ownership of something,” she said.

The premise is simple: “Just add water when you can.”

Judy hung signs on the trees explaining the idea and posted on social networking platform Nextdoor.

“Fay Avenue trees are ready for adoption,” the post read. “They have had brush and trash cleaned out from under them, have had mulch added around their base and have been lightly watered. It would be great if some neighbors/students/parents/Coggan pool users would adopt one of more of these trees and provide water to them. If you do adopt one, you can take down the adoption sign and add your own. Even if you can’t water on a regular basis, every bit helps.”

On Aug. 21, Judy said all eight trees had been adopted.

Some people came up with interesting names for the adopted trees.

Kat Gillane saw the Nextdoor post and chose to participate. Gillane is battling cancer and recently moved to La Jolla to live with her sister, she said.

She saw the signs on the trees indicating they needed care, “and it reminded me of my own struggles,” Gillane said. “It gave me an incentive to get out of bed and go somewhere.”

Gillane named her adopted tree “Joan of Bark” and plans to attach small bags to help people clean up after their dogs.

“I get to help the tree live,” she said, “and me, too.”

Kat Gillane saw Judy Swain's post and adopted a tree, calling it "Joan of Bark."

The four women plan to keep up their work “as best we can; we’ve started work on Nautilus Street between West Muirlands and Via Valverde because the ice plant and the bushes have completely overgrown the sidewalk,” Judy said.

San Diego City Council member Barbara Bry, whose district includes La Jolla, praised their efforts. “One of the things I love most about La Jolla is the pride residents take in the upkeep of our community,” Bry said. “My gratitude extends to those who volunteered their time and resources to clean up.”

Judy said she hopes more people will do the same. “If we can do it, you can do it!” ◆