Matthew Higginson's picture
Posted by Matthew Higginson /
Day in the field
Few things are more inspiring than planting a living thing and knowing it is going to grow. And rarely do I meet people who plant only for themselves - whether it’s in a community garden or your own backyard - there always seems to be an urge to share it with others. That being said, I was still a little thrown off when they told me I would be spending a day in the field planting trees – after all, I had signed on to be in communications, not planting boots...



But two years in, here I am crawling out of bed before the sun on a cold September morning.  I climb into my work boots and rain coat and hop on my bicycle to ride across town and meet Andrea Blake, LEAF's field supervisor.  This is my fourth time giving up a day of writing, designing and coordinating to help build our urban forest, and as I roll across the parking lot to our 16-foot truck I'm still yawning, groggy and half asleep.  "Don't worry," she says as I climb into the cab, "you'll wake up soon enough."


Our planting season kicks off each spring and fall - the two best times to plant trees and shrubs.  Everyone on staff is offered an opportunity to get out of the office and into the field to join our planting crews as they plant, on average, about 1000 trees and shrubs per year.  And between you and me, it is probably the best part of working at LEAF.  This is part of the philosophy: that all of the staff be engaged in the issues and work that we are doing.  So, on this grey day in North York and after one extremely large coffee, I am ready to plant and mulch like it's my job.

See video

I'm excited to be out of the office and out on the frontlines, and as we make our way through the maze of highways to our holding yard (which I call affectionately the little LEAF forest), we get ready for the first step: picking up the 10 trees (towering red maples, tulip trees, serviceberries and hackberry trees... all way heavier than they look) and two shrubs that we have on our schedule for the day.

This is always a very different experience from the community plantings we do at say Milne Hollow or the Humber Bay - both in terms of the size of trees and shrubs, but also because we are planting on private property.  The reason being that a huge portion of the urban forest lays outside of our city parks and ravines, and the potential to build it up rests in these areas.  A lot of the people we work with are replacing an older tree that had come down of natural causes, or naturalizing a place that has been without trees for many years.


In many ways LEAF's residential programs are not about providing a service so much as they are about building a partnership with homeowners.  Our arborists sit down with each resident to determine what exactly they are looking for – something that will keep them invested in the health of the tree – and make sure we only plant species that will do well in that particular area, which ensures greater health and ultimately more benefits for the entire community.


We finish planting after 13 and a half hours – and as exhausted as I am, sweeping out the truck with Andrea, I feel great about making a contribution to the urban forest that will last a lot longer than either of us.



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