Plants - Trees and Shrubs

The politics of gardening: Our love of trees

Katharine Fletcher

Felling a beloved neighbourhood tree triggers important reflections

Ask any reader of J.R.R. Tolkein’s Ring series, and they’ll remember Ents, an ancient race of tree-beings who walked and talked during Middle Earth.
Ask anyone you know what these giant plants mean to them, and you’ll discover a world of often wistful responses.

Why do we so love trees?

Spiritual connection
They don’t only serve human beings well by giving us shelter and food, and cleaning carbon dioxide from the air. Trees appeal to our souls—and they are frequently figure prominently in happy childhood memories. Remember leaning against a sturdy tree trunk, reading a book below a canopy of softly rustling leaves? Remember the scent of pine needles warmed by the sun?
Our deep, spiritual connection with these living beings explains why many of us feel outraged when trees are felled.

Neighbourhood loss…
Vincenzo Pietropaolo and Giuliana Colalillo were distressed when a Toronto neighbour felled a 60-year-old honey locust they’d admired for years. “It’s environmental vandalism!” exclaimed Pietropaolo, a photographer highly regarded for his evocative images of trees.

Despite Colallilo’s appeal to Toronto’s Urban Forestry Department in 2010 to save this tree from being felled, the new property owners/developers procured a removal permit. The tree, said Pietropaolo, “could have been accommodated with a slight redesign to their home. But the tree bylaw in Toronto has no real strength against developers. In 15 minutes on a Saturday morning, it was all over. Sad.”

…Neighbourhood gain
However, all’s not lost. Perseverance wins rewards.

Not only is Colallilo an ardent champion of our urban wild, she is a committed spokesperson for healthy neighbourhoods. First, not only did she know that Toronto possesses an Urban Forestry Department (as do many municipalities), she didn’t let the tree’s removal end her lobbying.

She maintained contact with the department, winning success by persuading the experts to re-forest with native species.

She reported: “Five new trees will be planted: two butternuts on the owner/developer’s property and three on the boulevard. I worked with the Urban Forestry Assistant to change the Norway maples destined for the boulevard to one sugar maple and two red maples.”


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