This once-criticized Anchorage road landscaping project has really paid off

airport, anchorage airport, spruce tree, spruce trees, ted stevens anchorage international airport, trees

For the first time in years I have not received a single question about Christmas trees. How could this be? It is hard to fathom that no one wants to know what I think is the best tree or that no one is worried about needle drop.

Is it just too early? No questions here is fine by me, but I am required to write one Christmas tree column nonetheless. There is no way around it.

I suppose I could do a column on the tree recycling program of Alaskans for Litter Prevention and Recycling. It wouldn’t be a very long one because we all know the program — except this year we will be able to also recycle strings of lights, but not when on trees. This season the program runs from Dec. 28 through Jan. 15. Look for ads in the ADN, which is a cosponsor of this important program.

So instead, let me draw your attention to International Airport Road, from Jewel Lake Road to the domestic terminal at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport. Even those living outside of Anchorage have driven this route. As I was heading toward the airport recently, I was thinking about the now-large spruce that line the road. Some of you may remember when this landscaping effort began.

Immediately, there were complaints. The trees looked like lollipops lined up in a row. People complained. The trees were too close to each other, people said. And everyone insisted the trees were too small and would never grow tall enough to screen what then were lots that had trees on them!

What you don’t see are mountain ash trees on the median strip. Hundreds were planted, one after another, down the roadway at the same time the spruce went in. Alas, winter hit. Snow was piled on the median and in tight berms that trapped voles attracted to the mountain ashes’ tender bark. The only thing to eat were the trees, and the voles decimated them, girdling each and every trunk. By late spring, it was clear all the mountain ashes were goners.

We know now mountain ashes attract moose into medians, causing them to cross roads and get hit. But back then, the city administration that oversaw the landscaping project took a lot of heat. Critics passed on the way the spruce looked and hit on the ashes. Dead trees — hundreds of them! Public dollars wasted on what? Landscaping?! This was one of Anchorage’s first real beautification efforts, and the beautification of International Airport Road was not a good start, for sure.


Looking back, what a blessing that project was! What you see along this important roadway is a beautiful, tall and thick living wall. What you don’t see is most of the ugly and granular development necessary to support an airport. And the success of the project made landscaping required on all public projects throughout the municipality, which is a good thing — and hopefully there are plans in place in case spruce bark beetles take the spruce out.

Why, if you didn’t know where you were, you might think a port authority or municipal administration really planned and planted a beautiful entry to Ted Stevens International. It is time to acknowledge a job very well done. What a present from the past! Who knows, we might even be able to put holiday lights on those trees sometime.

Jeff’s Alaska Garden Calendar

Correction: Oops, the invasion of new birds is by starlings, not grackles. Every night my dad would fire a shotgun into the air to clear our trees of 10,000 or more pooping birds. We don’t want grackles either, but starlings are the current threat.

Alaska Botanical Garden: Lights: Visit the display! Action: Renew your membership, and give them as gifts while you are at it. Not a member? Join now.

Indoor pelargoniums: Ours are in full bloom under lights. Time to let them rest a bit. Remove flowers and new buds. Grow cool with less light. Resume light treatment in early February.

Windows: Make sure your plants are not getting too cold near leaky windows.

Jeff Lowenfels | Alaska gardening and growing

Jeff Lowenfels has written a weekly gardening column for the ADN for more than 45 years. His columns won the 2022 gold medal at the Garden Communicators International conference. He’s authored several books on organic gardening, and his latest book, "Teaming With Bacteria," is available on Amazon. Reach him at