Celebrating trees

Sunday, 29 July 2018

Planting on Beecroft Village Green on National Tree Day 2018

This Sunday was National Tree Day, an annual event begun in 1996, coordinated by Planet Ark, where communities across the country organise plantings of native trees and shrubs to improve their local environment. Over the past 22 years, more than 3.8 million people have planted 24 million trees. In my town, people gathered on the village green to plant a blackbutt sapling to join the three white mahogany trees (Eucalyptus acmenoides) planted at the three preceding Tree Days. These white mahogany saplings had been grown from the seed of a majestic old specimen that was very sadly felled a few years ago to build a block of apartments; and a hedge of the beautiful foliaged lilly pilly cultivar 'Cascade' begun last year was extended along the edge of the park.

Trees play a vital role in gardens

National Tree Day is laudable for so many reasons. As suburbs undergo rampant development to cram in apartments and townhouses, more trees than ever are being removed, creating 'urban heat islands'. As well as beautifying the landscape, a canopy of trees is the most effective way of cooling our suburbs, especially during the recent long, hot, dry summers we have been experiencing. Trees also improve air quality by absorbing polluting gases and odours, and filtering air particles. Trees, especially local indigenous species, provide habitat for wildlife and can act as a corridor to connect remnant bushland areas in suburbia. At today's event, local residents were buoyed to hear from the mayor that after losing 15,000 trees a year, Hornsby Council has now decided to plant 25,000 new trees along streets and in parks by September 2020: fabulous news indeed.

Farm trees, Southen Tablelands, NSW

In country areas, planting trees can help reduce soil erosion and salinity, lessen stormwater runoff, and provide shade for animals. All trees sequester carbon: locking up large amounts of carbon in their wood. It has been estimated that one-half of the weight of dried wood is carbon. Thus trees help to slow the increase of carbon dioxide that is trapping heat in the Earth's atmosphere. The ecosystem on farms where once trees were cut down to create bare paddocks can be totally transformed by mass tree planting.

National Tree Day actively promotes the inclusion of children in its activities, giving an opportunity for young people to understand and appreciate the importance of trees, not only for all the environmental reasons, but also for the psychological and physical health benefits trees have for people - many studies have shown that people are healthier and happier when they have trees around them!

Corymbia ficifolia Summer Beauty

In our own gardens, I feel we need at least one tree to give a sense of scale, structure and height, as well as a feeling of solidity and permanence. A tree can provide privacy and a sense of shelter to the garden and the house itself. It can provide shade for the house as well as for garden areas, protecting other plants from extreme heat in summer and frost in winter. In compact gardens, small deciduous trees have lots of offer, providing shade in summer and sunshine in winter. Their leaves are a valuable source of humus and organic matter for the compost heap. They give a strong sense of season to the garden, with leafy green in summer, often brilliant autumn leaves in autumn, an attractive tracery of bare stems in winter and then the excitement of new leaves (and possibly flowers) in spring. Many can be grown in very large pots. Some of my favourite small deciduous trees include Japanese maples, the smaller crepe myrtles and crab apples (Malus species). Amongst evergreen trees, the spectacular grafted red flowering gums (Corymbia ficifolia) can now be obtained in more compact sizes, and I am about to plant one of these as my National Tree Day contribution!

Planting a tree has always seemed to me quite a solemn and momentous event. We are planting something that in all probability will outlive us and become an important feature of the landscape of the future. It is obviously ideal to plant one's tree(s) at the outset of creating a garden, so that they can grow and mature along with the garden. However, this can result in poor choice of specimens if there is not enough knowledge about the characteristics of trees, as in my case, when I planted a sapling of an enormous gum tree in my first garden, which was out of all proportion to the yard. It's wise to seek expert advice in tree choice if you aren't sure, and avoid monsters that will get way too tall; trees whose roots will invade drains and the rest of the garden; those with wide canopies that will shade a lot of the garden; weedy varieties that self-seed prolifically; and those with a short life, which will ultimately prove disappointing.

Tree saplings

Even if we don't get round to planting trees until we are middle aged, we can still enjoy watching the progress of a tree maturing over the years. It's amazing how quickly the years go by and what was once a nondescript stick with a few tufts of leaves becomes a sturdy, muscular tree with a distinctive shape and a real presence, fulfilling its destiny as surely as a child growing into an adult. When planting a tree, give it the best possible start by preparing the soil around the spot well and adding plenty of organic matter. Keep it mulched and well watered in its early life, especially during these worryingly dry times.

Reader Comments

  • By margaret 2122 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 30 July 2018

    I applaud your efforts of being involved in tree planting generally, and in your area, in particular. Trees are such an important element in our environment, for the reasons which you mentioned. It is criminal how trees are destroyed for reasons such as "obstructing views" or for the erection of high-rise buildings. Education on the preservation of trees is surely needed. Thanks, Margaret. It was good to see lots of kids at our event, helping to plant the trees and learn of their importance. Deirdre

  • By Anne 2518 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 30 July 2018

    In the garden where I grew up we had a beautiful gum which we had saved from Burragorang Valley before it was flooded for Warragamba Dam. It is still there and nearly 60 years old now. It was ok when it was always houses in the area but it was on a hillside and council allowed apartments where there had been houses. so suddenly the tree was overshadowing residences! Talk about complaints. I was glad to move away. Very sad to hear such stories, Anne. Deirdre

  • By Anne 2518 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 30 July 2018

    Was the sapling of a white mahogany (Eucalyptus acmenoides) from that wonderful tree behind the Ross" Garden Clinic and was that Graham I spotted in your first photo? It was tragic when it was felled. Can"t believe what has and is happening around your area when I travel up to Sydney. I have corrected the story because I realised that this year a blackbutt sapling was planted to join the three white mahogany trees that were put in on the three previous Tree Days. Sorry about the mistake. Yes, the white mahogany saplings were grown from seed from that beautiful tree near the Ross Garden Clinic, in the old IGA carpark. It was very sad when it was cut down. And yes Graham is very supportive of our Tree Day event and helps plant the trees. Deirdre

  • By Lloyd 4060 (Zone:11A - Sub-tropical) Monday, 30 July 2018

    A tree that lived happily with low-rise houses became some kind of "overshadowing" threat to high rise apartments? Why does local government seem to hate the people it is supposedly close to?! I have several favourite trees. Two Alloxylon Flammeum which come into spectacular scarlet blossom late August. And a beautifully formed Lemon Myrtle, now 10 metres high but likely to be threatened by a big nextdoor renovation. And I almost forgot my spectacular Randia Fitzilani at 10 metres also. Joy! They are all lovely trees. Deirdre

  • By Pam 2159 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 30 July 2018

    A quote from John Greenleaf Whittier c150 years ago "Give fools their gold, and knaves their power; let fortune"s bubbles rise and fall; who sows a field, or trains a flower, or plants a tree, is more than all". Thank you for that fab quote, Pam! Deirdre

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