One TREE-mendous Volunteer!

Our Stewardship Coordinator, Brian Millward, had the pleasure of speaking with Lillian Natalizio about her experience with LEAF and her passion for the urban forest. From stewardship in our demonstration gardens to participating in community tree planting events, Lillian has participated in almost every volunteer program we offer since she joined our community in 2015! In total, she has donated over 350 hours of her time to protecting and enhancing the urban forest.


How did you first become interested in the urban forest?

I was fortunate to grow up in a part of Toronto that has a lot of trees. As children, trees were an extension of our playground, and the source of many favourite foods. Later on, Lambton Woods along the Humber River became my go-to place to relax and unwind. I started taking a more direct interest in the urban forest about seven or eight years ago while spending more time on various trails in the city. I found myself wanting to learn more about the trees I was seeing. At the same time, the loss of trees along the trails and in our neighbourhoods, due to various storms, was increasing.


How did you find out about LEAF and how have you been involved?

I learned about LEAF when the Executive Director, Janet McKay, gave a talk about the urban forest to the Toronto Field Naturalists in spring of 2015. She spoke passionately about both the importance of the urban forest and the challenges facing it. Having recently lost a white ash tree at home to the emerald ash borer, I was motivated to volunteer. I’ve since become a member of the Old Mill Garden Stewards team, as well as the outreach team. I’ve also planted one of LEAF’s native bee garden kits and an edible shrub bundle at home.


Is there a particular moment at LEAF that stands out as being extremely memorable?

One of my most memorable moments with LEAF was the first planting event I volunteered for, at Cold Creek Conservation Area in 2016. It was an unseasonably cold and windy day in early June, but that did not dampen the enthusiasm of the students who were participating. It was the first time that I actually planted a tree, and then another, and another. It was very rewarding to imagine that some of those trees might still be living decades or even centuries from now.


What does the urban forest mean to you and what message would you like to share with others to encourage them to become involved?

The urban forest is our benefactor. It is clean air, respite from summer heat, a feast for the senses, and so much more. But it needs room to grow and live. If you’d like to help give back, plant soon and plant smart. If you can’t plant, look for a stewardship group, or start learning about the urban forest. It is diverse and beautiful and endlessly fascinating. Spend some time in the spring watching the new growth of a tree and you’ll begin to understand.


Want to become a LEAF Volunteer? Check our Volunteer page for upcoming volunteer orientations!



Brian Millward is the Stewardship Coordinator at LEAF.



Our Urban Forest Demonstration Gardens are supported by Ontario Power Generation and the Toronto Transit Commission.

Our Volunteer Outreach Team is supported by Ontario Power Generation, the City of Toronto and the Regional Municipality of York.